Can you believe it has been 14 years since Ginger Snaps? Fourteen! I guess more than enough time has passed to make room for another tale of teenage angst and lycanthropy. That is, a tale that doesn’t involve Stephenie Meyer and one that knows how to delicately balance the two while being entertaining, thoughtful and never heavy-handed. So welcome with me When Animals Dream, a Danish thriller from Jonas Alexander Arnby that gets the job done in surprising and pleasing ways. There’s not a whole lot of new ground being broken here, but the film presents a beautiful-looking backdrop and introduces more of a “classic Universal monsters” tone than one would expect.
Films of this ilk usually thrust its protagonist into a small bubble as they deal with whatever monstrous problem they have. The bubble will be filled with one or two loved ones and there are usually very few outside players that get involved. When Animals Dream presents a town-wide ordeal that calls to mind the “angry mob” scenario that was omnipresent in Universal’s classic monster heyday, but this present-day angry mob has evolved and works quietly.
And it has its eye on Marie.
In a small fishing village, Marie lives with her father and wheelchair-bound mother. When we first find her, she’s getting a physical by the doctor, questioning a bizarre rash that has appeared on her chest. The rash signals the arrival of a major change Marie is about to go through in her life and there are those in town – and those close to her – that are anticipating this. And while they’ll try to suppress her hirsute transformation, this teenager will not be held down. She comes to discover what’s happening to her is deeply connected to her mother’s condition, but what will she do about it? Moreover, what will she learn from it? Also, what will she do about the new man in her life?
When Animals Dream works so well because Arnby capably teeters between the quiet dramatic moments and sudden sequences of horror while staying true to the film’s themes. Actress Sonia Suhl helps ease us through the tonal shifts. Suhl’s Marie is a smart, pretty girl who is empowered pretty early on in the film which instantly makes her a winner. There’s a defining moment in which her father (played by Lars Mikkelsen – Mads’ brother) offers some simple advice – don’t take any crap – and it’s this spirit that fuels the story.
There are a few false notes in the film, some questions of logic that shouldn’t be discussed here in fear of giving away third act beats, but some flaws exist. It has a hasty third act, too. Also, there’s a chase sequence involving some townies on scooters that gave me a good chuckle as scooters are the least threatening thing on the planet to me – but hey, I guess that’s all they’ve got in this small town?
Those looking for a full-on werewolf romp should know this isn’t a creature feature akin to An American Wererwolf in London. Tonally, this is more in line with Let the Right One In while channeling elements of Ginger Snaps. But make no mistake, this isn’t as sensational or wild or funny as the latter comparison. It’s a movie that lurks quietly in the shadows, stalking you until its ready to pounce and show you what big, sharp teeth is has.
(When Animals Dream played at the Fantasia International Film Festival. It was picked up earlier this year by Radius-TWC for a U.S. release.)