When Twilight debuted in the aughts everyone assumed that the copycats would last forever. Forever only lasted about four years, but the lasting impact was made by low-key fare like Let the Right One In. Taking a cue from that 2008 film, When Animals Dream places emphasis on atmosphere and dread, rather than buckets of blood. Eerie films like this live or die on their setting alone, and there is no more fantastic location to use than a small town on the rocky coast of Northern Denmark. Mikkel Hess’ score, a blend of traditional folk songs and harrowing orchestral, is another excellent mood-setter.
Marie (Sonia Suhl) is a teenaged outsider living in a small fishing village. Her homelife is dominated by her overly protective father (Lars Mikkelsen), and her mother, who is confined to a wheelchair and dulled by sedatives. The other townspeople keep a respectful distance and only the neighboring Daniel seems to want to have anything to do with her. Left with little else to do, she takes a job at the local fish processing plant. She soon finds that her co-workers are either distant, or outright nasty. Adding to her drama is a rash that prompts a visit to the doctor.
What appears to be an innocuous ailment panics Marie’s father because a similar condition left her mother a shell of her former self. When Animals Dream lets the audience in on the premise a little too late. It’s obvious that Marie isn’t suffering from a debilitating sickness, but something more supernatural. Marie and her mother are both Lycans. The dark family secret that Thor has kept from Marie so long is that her mother’s confinement is partially his fault. Mor has to remain in a medical stupor to keep from transforming, and those are the terms of Thor’s truce with the town if they want to continue to live there.
Up until this point of the film, Marie has largely been a stoic character, but her father’s revelation enrages her. Thor clearly loves Marie’s mother, yet it’s hard to imagine he could let her go on this way as her husband. Marie sees the writing on the wall and makes the choice her mother didn’t. She won’t be told what she can (and, conversely, can’t) be, and this defiant stance leads to a bloody, climactic finish.
In a year when It Follows and Spring made the biggest splash on the horror scene, When Animals Dream is coming out at a most opportune time. This low-key horror film relies less on gore and jump-scares instead offering a complex evolution of the character. Monster films are intrinsically linked to burgeoning sexuality and Arnby uses the horror genre as a Trojan horse for social criticism. Marie simultaneously fascinates and disgusts her male co-workers at the fishing plant, who respond in kind with rituals of humiliation that bears more malice than just adjusting a newbie to the workforce.
When Animals Dream is probably too slowly paced to satisfy the gorehounds, but more patient fans will be rewarded to the debut of a promising filmmaker Jonas Alexander Arnby. And there is still plenty of old-school werewolf action when Marie gets her revenge on those who oppressed her for so long. The horror genre has seen a lot of quality films in 2015, be sure to add this movie to the list.