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    When Animals Dream (2015): Movie Review

    “A dreamy and sleepy female werewolf noir.”

     She is turning into a woman; yet, she is also turning into something else. In the Danish coming-of-age film When Animals Dream (Dannish: Når dyrene drømmer), a female werewolf is yet to discover the mysteries in her. A romantic lycanthropic story at its heart, this debut feature by Jonas Alexander Arnby will explore how a young woman reconciles the otherworldly forces working within her with her blossoming womanhood.

    Marie (Sonia Suhl) is a withdrawn teenager living in a remote tiny fishing village in Denmark’s northern coast with her overprotective dad (Lars Mikkelson) and wheelchair-bound, muted mother (Sonja Richter). She has a strange rash in her chest that grows hair and the family physician, Dr. Larsen (Stig Hoffmeyer), warns her that she might inherit her mother’s afflictions.

    Later, Marie takes a job at the local fish processing plant. While most of her co-workers are hostile or repulsive of her, Daniel (Jakob Oftebro) takes interest in her. As she basks in her newly-found romance, Marie also feels compelling urges within her. Soon, more hairs grow on her body as she discovers the secret her family and the community has been keeping for so long. 

    When Animals Dream is reminiscent of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. Instead of vampire child, it features teenage werewolf. But story- and presentation-wise, the two movies have apparent similarities. Both possess that eerie and gloomy atmosphere, a haunting beauty that carries oppression and sadness. The present owes it to its dreamy location shot with a masterful play of color – from pale blues to cloudy grays. In terms of blood and gore, both films are not excessive but just enough for a calm chilly fright.

    Likewise, When Animals Dream tends to be more a character study that an exhibition of horror and suspense. It is mysterious, each truths leading to the growth of the lead character. Having been socially secluded, Marie easily falls victim to the coercions and derisions of her co-workers and neighbors, the same people who drove her mother to a life of isolation. But Marie is done hiding and with a man who loves her as who she really is, she embraces her elemental instincts and fight back. It is a bloody and heart-breaking journey for individuality and self-acceptance; yet, Marie is willing to pay the price for it.

    The film is a slow burner, and its pensive mood and lethargic pace may not be attractive to most audience. In fact, it is initially so slow and it feels like a medical drama during the first thirty minutes as Marie struggles with her unknown condition. It may be artistic to look at but its lack of variation, in tone and visuals, gives a monotonous dryness that may further test one’s viewing patience. It is also quite formulaic, offering nothing much to werewolf standards. Just like its hazy vibe, the movie has vague points in the narrative, specifically about the mother’s history.
    Suhl and Mikkelsen are the two stand-outs in the movie. She may be a newcomer but Suhl carries the film efficiently. With her haunted pale countenance, she delivers the sweet vulnerabilities of Marie. Mikkelsen exudes paternal chemistry with Suhl. He projects the saddened gravity of a father taking care of a damned family. 

    When Animals Dream is as poignant as it can be, both in its narrative and presentation. It may not bring in something new to the table but it offers a relatively fresh and different take of the werewolf folklore. If you are a patient movie fan, you may want to consider this in your next list. 

    Production company: Alphaville Pictures 
    Cast: Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Sonja Richter, Jakob Oftebro, Mads Riisom 
    Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby 
    Screenwriter: Rasmus Birch 
    Cinematographer: Niels Thastum 
    Editor: Peter Brandt 
    Production designer: Sabine Hviid 
    Music: Mikkel Hess


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