Review: When Animals Dream (Arnby, 2014)

When Animals Dream is a charmingly atmospheric take on the werewolf myth which strikes an admirable balance between intelligent storytelling and the obligatory use of genre tropes. A young woman called Marie lives a quiet life in a Danish fishing village, where we are introduced to the character as she visits a local doctor after noticing some surprising bodily changes. ‘Nothing to worry about’ the doctor muses, ‘but come back in a month so I can check again.’ Marie returns home to her ill mother and caring but secretive father. Confined to a wheelchair, Marie’s mother does not talk and does not appear to communicate with even her closest family members. For Marie, each day is a repetitive cycle of assisting her mother and working at her new job at a fish processing plant. However, similarities between her mother’s illness and her own condition soon begin to manifest themselves; all under the watchful eye of a local community which seems to know more about Marie’s dark family secret than she does herself.

As When Animals Dream progresses, director Jonas Alexander Arnby manages to keep the proceedings compelling, even if its latter genre tropes seem at odds with the style of the film’s first half. Most admirable is the film’s choice to keep explicit details of Marie’s condition and its genesis under wraps, mostly leaving interpretation to the audience’s imagination. Viewers who pay keen attention, however, will note how the film hints at the cyclical nature of Marie’s family predicament and its beginnings. Interestingly, When Animals Dream also offers the possibility to be read as an examination of a family suffering from the agony of hereditary disease and the guilt that comes with the knowledge that a ‘monstrous’ illness, such as the one depicted by the film, may be passed on to one’s children. Whilst it does not equal the likes of recent European horror fare, such as Let the Right One In which similarly introduced gothic horror ideas into a realistic setting, When Animals Dream is a competent and interesting addition to the genre.

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