'The Animal Kingdom' Review: An Emotionally Deep and Visually Stunning Fable The Nerdy Basement

‘The Animal Kingdom’ Review: An Emotionally Deep and Visually Stunning Fable

Written by Thomas Cailley and Pauline Munier, Cailley also directed the film, ‘The Animal Kingdom’ which takes place in a world where a mutation in human genetics has caused some humans to transform into hybrid creatures known as Critters. Society as a whole has essentially turned on their hybrid human counterparts with the governing police force capturing said Critters and essentially jailing them in their personal “hospitals” for “treatment”.

The film doesn’t dive too much into what takes place in the hospitals where these Critters are being held captive, which is a shame given how this film is advertised as a thriller and it, unfortunately, lacks in that department and this would’ve been a great avenue to explore the more thrilling side of this story. What sets the events of this film in motion is François (played by Roman Duris) and Emile (played by Paul Kircher) who at the start of the film are stuck in traffic on their way to visit his wife in one of these treatment hospitals (his wife has become a Critter).

During her transportation and the transportation of other creators, her transport veers off the road allowing her and her fellow Critters to escape into a nearby forest. Learning about this incident, François frantically embarks on a journey to locate his wife so we can get the help he thinks she needs to “cure” her condition.

At first, the story is presented in a way that seemingly sets this up as François’s main goal. What follows is more of an acceptance story as the story makes a complete shift in focus and focuses, for the most part, on Emile and his slow transformation into a Critter. Through his new journey, Emile must help his dad locate his missing mother, although that falls to the wayside, and try to adapt and accept the world’s prejudice toward Critters, while also accepting who he is becoming along the way.

'The Animal Kingdom' Review: An Emotionally Deep and Visually Stunning Fable The Nerdy Basement

Roman Duris and Paul Kircher deliver all of the emotional heaviness of the film in their respective performances. Duris nails the emotionally tortured husband trying to do right by his son and his wife and Kircher nails the nuanced performance of someone whose life has been quite literally, turned upside down. Not only does he have to deal with the realization that his mother will never be the same, but also accepts that he will never be the same due to the same mutation.

If there was any semblance of an X-Men film that was needed, ‘The Animal Kingdom’ is it and Cailley delivers its all and truly encapsulates how cruel mankind can be toward each other when the status quo is disrupted. Cailley also highlights the empathy of humanity through the lens of one of Emile’s classmates who believes that Critters aren’t beings to be hunted or held captive but rather beings humans need to learn how to cohabit with. Emile’s dad also has the same sentiments. This specific belief is what makes the film such an engaging and captivating watch.

Another thing ‘The Animal Kingdom’ excels at is in visual and practical effects. The Critters look absolutely amazing and believable. There are very few moments where certain Critters look off due to the VFX of the shot but for the most part, every Critter looks real and tangible. The film’s scenic locations, more specifically, the woods and cornfields also provide some of the most beautiful shots of the film. It is truly a visual feast.

'The Animal Kingdom' Review: An Emotionally Deep and Visually Stunning Fable The Nerdy Basement

One thing I did wish the film leaned into more was the more thrilling and suspenseful side of the story. The elements are there but aren’t fully executed in order to deliver a more emotionally deep story which isn’t entirely a bad thing. It is where the film excels the most after all and removing or diminishing that aspect of this story specifically may or may have not been a hindrance. I feel like highlighting the fear these people have towards Critters would’ve added that extra layer of thrill and suspense. The fear that the film presents isn’t tangible in the least.

Keeping the Critters mostly in the dark, seeming like these dark, mysterious creatures that cannot be approached was fine until it wasn’t. Mostly due to one particular Critter, Fix, who shows how this traumatic mutation and people’s perception of people dealing with this mutation can push them over the edge becoming a more violent being than they did not intend to be. You push a scared dog back enough against the wall and it is sure to bite back. This is something Cailley should’ve worked towards highlighting to provide more duality to the Critters and understanding of the prejudice and fear the Critters are on the receiving end of.

‘The Animal Kingdom’ does stumble along the way, however, it quickly pulls itself up by its bootstraps and hits the ground running whenever it aims to do so. And when the film runs, there is no stopping it. At times it does feel like the film loses its focus but it never fully deters and manages to still deliver a story full of emotion with an emphasis on prejudice and bigotry, the building of a community, finding family, and eventually, freedom and acceptance. Which is ultimately what the film intended to do.

The Animal Kingdom arrives in theaters and on VOD on March 15.

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