Sod the naysayers. I think this movie is wonderful. Lycanthropy as a metaphor for the hairier aspects of puberty is a motif that’s been used before, but never as a story like this been so meditative and visually astonishing as the the Danish chiller When Animals Dream. I knew as soon as I saw the gorgeous opening credits that I was in for something special, Animals’ coastal small town setting as stunning as it is deeply desolate and bleak.
Comparisons, of course, will be drawn to Tomas Alfredson’s haunting story of young vampire love Let the Right One In, both are outstanding films that effortlessly outdo American fright films and prove, once again, that horror can have truly scary implications without focusing on gore or wanton brutality. This is why off-the-radar horror is often (never say ‘always’) better than the slasher films and gorefests mainstream studios offer up to the bloodthirsty masses.
Marie (Sonia Suhl) is an awfully nice girl who happens to be turning into a werewolf – the victim of a family secret that has been kept from her for the majority of her youth. Marie lives with her dad (Lars Mikkaelson,) who seems well-meaning but is way over his head with the women of his family; and her mother (Sonja Richter,) who- ahem – doesn’t seem to be all there, lacking the ability to even rise from her wheelchair or express herself verbally.
And what’s with all those injections mom keeps taking? What exactly is making this woman sick in the first place? Could it have something to do with an attack by a group of Russian sailors years before? Whatever the case, Dad isn’t telling, and Marie grows up none the wiser until she begins developing strange bruises and coarse hair all over her body.
Marie starts working in a fish plant, where she is pushed into a vat of rotten fish by her jeering co-workers the first time under the pretense of ‘hazing.’ The bright spot in Marie’s life is Daniel, (Jakob Oftbro) a cute guy who doesn’t treat her like a total outcast. However, several other men at the plant (led by the leering Esben,) who abhor Marie for her femininity and perpetuate attacks and harassment of a sexual nature on the girl.
Marie begins to separate herself from her parents and takes up Daniel as a boyfriend, goes to a rave-even has sex, discovering her sensuality and becoming more self-confident in the process. But as the townspeople discover Marie’s fleshly habits, things can’t end on anything other than a full-scale bloodbath. You just better hope you’re on the right side of this war, or you might just end up being this girl’s dinner. Marie didn’t start this. But she’ll sure as Hell finish it.
Some people might not like that Marie doesn’t devour anyone who is not a direct threat to her life, and that her wolf make-up doesn’t look as wolfish as, say An American Werewolf in London. But these things didn’t bother me. There are some unanswered questions like, will Marie randomly kill people who don’t mean her any harm, or is she harmless just as long as you don’t push her buttons too much? Regardless, it was fun watching the narrow-minded townspeople get what’s indubitably coming to them, in the form of a ravenous, empowered Marie.
Sonia Suhl gives a very good, understated performance as the main heroine and I really liked that she was pretty without being particularly ‘glamorous’ or made up. There are some really creepy moments in his film, for example the eerie sounds during the sex scene (akin to a rusty door rattling on it’s hinges (!))
Honestly, When Animals Dream is not terribly scary, but it’s creepy and loaded with unsettling atmosphere. It isn’t as thought-provoking as Let the Right One In (mostly due to Marie’s most unwerewolf-like benevolence unless her life is being directly threatened,) but it’s incredibly moody and- wouldn’t you know it?- sometimes incredibly heartbreaking. It’s easy to see who’s the real monster in a town of merciless louts and bullies. But in the end, they’re all pretty much fucked. There’s a new queen in town, and once you’ve wronged her, you better hope you can run fast enough to avoid being nibbled on.