When Animals Dream
Written by Rasmus Birch
Directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby
It is never clear what exactly Marie is turning into. The sudden manifestation of thick body hair would seem to suggest a werewolf, but When Animals Dream does not follow the normal werewolf mythology; there are no full moons or silver bullets to be found here. Regardless of its ambiguity, though, the story of Marie’s transformation makes for a wonderfully atmospheric horror film. When Animals Dream may suffer due to an underdeveloped screenplay, but it never loses touch with its profound spookiness and suspense.
Marie’s monstrous self-discovery begins when she notices a rash on her chest. She tries to ignore it, but the rash soon spreads and sprouts a patch of coarse hair. It is around this time that Marie starts to learn about some of the dark secrets in her family’s past. Her mother, a catatonic woman bound to a wheelchair, used to terrorize the small Danish town where Marie’s family lives. Now her husband keeps her heavily sedated, but this has not stopped the town’s citizens from making pariahs out of Marie and her parents.
Marie’s reaction to this news may be the most mysterious aspect to the entire film. When she understands that she has inherited her mother’s affliction, she seems to treat her condition with pride. She makes almost no effort to hide the hair that is now beginning to cover her back and face. At one point she casually divulges her impending transformation to a potential boyfriend, asking him to take her virginity before she ceases to be human. It is never quite clear why Marie behaves the way she does. Perhaps her condition gives her a sense of power and self-discovery that allows her to rise above her community’s ostracism; however, so little is revealed about Marie’s character and backstory that such an interpretation may be completely off the mark.
Though the reasons behind her actions remain elusive, Marie’s story never ceases to be gripping. Some of this is due to the extraordinary presence of Sonia Suhl, whose slight, bird-like frame provides a wonderful contrast to the fearsome creature that resides within Marie. Moreover, director Jonas Alexander Arnby brings a subtle and down-to-earth approach to the monster movie genre. His unadorned camera-work adds greater immediacy to the story, which becomes a marvelous asset in the film’s terrifying final act. When Animals Dream does not have much to say about its protagonist or her life, but it weaves a deeply engaging and often terrifying story of a young girl’s bizarre metamorphosis.
– Jacob Carter