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When Animals Dream [Når dyrene drømmer] – Movie Review

4 September, 2015 — by Matt Owen0

When Animals Dream [Når dyrene drømmer] is essentially another werewolf as coming-of-age metaphor flick, although it takes itself far more seriously than other examples.

when animals dream film poster

Recently the Werewolf has been a bit hard-done by. If the beast isn’t being overly sexified by the likes of Twilight, then it’s being overly CGI’d by The Wolfman. It’s a shame that in the process, this classic monster has lost some of its power to inspire genuine scary movies.

This is especially odd when you consider the rich history and possibilities the ‘monster within’ brings to the cinematic table. It gave us some interesting experiments with films like Wolfen, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and The Company of Wolves back in the 80s, and even in the 90s fun was still being had with Ginger Snaps (which we’ll come back to, and no, I’m not forgetting Dog Soldiers), but more recently the best we’ve seen has probably been Late Phases, a decent stab at the mythological shapeshifter but hamstrung by low budgets.

With that in mind, I was interested to see what take Denmark – a land full of forests and yes, actual wolves – might have on the genre. Unfortunately, genre is the problem here. Not the werewolf genre, the ‘Scandinavian’ one. All the key pieces are in place: super-downbeat atmosphere, 70s-brown decor and cinematography, the spirit of Henning Mankell lurking unseen on the borders telling us that our dialogue is a little too loud.

I said MORE BROWN! It's not brown enough!!
I said MORE BROWN! It’s not brown enough!!

I mentioned Ginger Snaps earlier, and it’s hard to get past that reference. When Animals Dream [Når dyrene drømmer]  is essentially another werewolf as coming-of-age metaphor flick, although it takes itself far more seriously than other examples.

Marie lives in a small fishing town with her distracted father and wheelchair-bound, semi-comatose mother. She gets a job in the local fish factory, where she’s pushed into a tank of fish guts as a ‘welcome’ gesture. It’s all a bit bleak. At home, there’s a mystery about her mother’s illness. The doctor and her father won’t speak, but it’s implied heavily that they suspect the same thing will happen to Marie. Indeed the opening scenes of Marie being examined by the doctor are among the best in the film.

Sonia Suhl does a fine job of portraying teenage awkwardness and fragility, and later on abandon as she despairs at her oncoming illness. Given the tufts of hair she’s developing on her body though, it’s a fair bet it isn’t psoriasis.

No, I'm pretty sure it IS psoriasis.
No, I’m pretty sure it IS psoriasis.

While there’s a lot of atmosphere here, it suffers from being a little too self-important. It drags the pace of what is actually a fairly quick movie at just 84 minutes, and while the ‘what’s this all about then?’ card is played within the first 20 minutes, it manages to be a little coy with its monster, not showing the full transformation until  the final scenes.

Ah yes, the monster. I’m afraid it’s of the ‘heavy eyebrows and tussled hair’ variety rather than the ‘great big deadly bastard’ kind. It’s a bit of an overused choice in my opinion, and it detracts from the danger which should be inherent. It means it’s difficult to believe Marie is truly dangerous, even when she’s ripping someone’s throat out. She’s just too little.

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 19.41.23
Have you tried pouring milk on them?

With that said, there are some points to commend this. The soundtrack is interesting, if only by it’s absence. Recently I’ve become so used to a disembodied synth throbbing in the background that it’s refreshing to see a horror that dispenses with this, instead relying on occasional strings and natural background noise, although there will be a soundtrack album of (presumably) extended versions by composer Mikkel Hess.

There’s also some fine realist photography on offer, and for the most part the actors do a good job with the low-key material. It feels as though it’s been put together with limited resources, and director Jonas Alexander Arnby clearly has talent, but the vision is a little too small here. It’s a promising attempt but – I am contractually obliged to shoehorn in a bad pun at this point – we may have to wait for the next blue moon to see a really good lycanthrope movie. 3/5

Check out the rest of the latest cinema releases in our new film reviews section, including the tremendously terrifying Unfriended and Guillermo Del Toro’s latest gothic masterpiece Crimson Peak.


When Animals Dream [Når dyrene drømmer]

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