[This review was originally posted as part of our SXSW 2014 coverage. It is being reposted to coincide with the film’s wide release.]
Director: Collin Schiffli
Release Date: March 9, 2014 (SXSW), May 15, 2015 (Theaters/VOD)
There have been many films about addictions in the past. For most, the first that comes to mind is Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, a dark, sometimes satirical look at the consequences of various forms of addiction. In a way, what helped make Reqiuem such a great film was how digestible the film was due to some of its outlandish, sometimes satirical tone. Sure, it was a dark and gruesome film, but it was somewhat sensationalized and over-exaggerated at times that helped hide or shield some of the more serious moments.
In ANIMALS, addictions are once again front and center, but they shape and characterize the love story between the film’s two leads, Jude (David Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw). The couple is homeless, living out of a car parked right outside of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, as they spend their days running elaborate cons to fuel their opiate addictions. As their options for low risk cons begin to run dry, Jude and Bobbie must turn to shadier jobs to supplement their growing addictions that cause friction in the couple’s relationship.
Throughout the film, there’s a foreboding sense of despair swirling around Jude and Bobbie, as is often the case within films similar to ANIMALS. However, the manner in which it manifests isn’t something inherently dark, unlike the fall in the aforementioned Requiem for a Dream, but something that fits within the context of the film. That’s not to say the drama or suspense is suspended; rather, it’s understated and kept grounded in a way that makes it feel more realistic and natural.
ANIMALS is loosely based on Dastmalchian’s personal struggle with opiate addiction years ago, so the intimacy and reality of the situation is derived from an honest place that doesn’t sensationalize any aspect of addiction, something I feel most other drug films do. ANIMALS might not find wide distribution, so if you get the chance to catch it at an indie or small run theater, I highly recommend catching it.