RJ Bayley Reviews: When Animals Dream

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Compared to their other stablemates in the Big Three Horror Species (which is a grouping I am coining as of right now), vampires and zombies, there’s been a dearth of innovation in recent years around the werewolf. Writer Rasmus Birch and director Jonas Alexander Arnby change that with the ethereal and appropriately dreamlike When Animals Dream. Telling the story of Marie (Sonia Suhl), a reserved young girl growing up in an isolated village, she finds herself increasingly aware of unpredicated changes in her body and increasingly troubled by her mother’s debilitating and unexplained illness.

I say dreamlike, but it would be more true to say nightmarish, but not in the traditional sense. After a bedding in period the film starts to take on subtly undefined and oddly normal-yet-disturbing aspects. One of the great strokes in Birch’s writing is that Marie isn’t all that at odds with her, with her transformation strange to Marie and therefore us, but it’s only really others in the village that have an actual problem with it. It’s this slow change that gives the film its unique tone and slowburn pace.

We’re also very much in the shoes of Marie for her journey, with people outside her family, wishing paralyzing treatment on her, very much semi-present antagonists. There is a mystery to be unfurled here too, but it’s slight and all the better for it. This is very much a horror-drama, and seeing deliberately unspectacular, very believable events progress not only provides the almost languid tone, but allows for a real focus on Marie’s psyche.

There’s a proper tragedy to the story as well, and it’s beautifully captured by the restrained, thoughtful performances of Marie, her mother (Sonja Richter) and her deeply conflicted father Thor (Lars Mikkelsen). This is well worth seeking out.

★★★★

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