Fantasia 2017: Animals
Married writers, Anna and Nick (Birgit Minichmayr and Philipp Hochmair, respectively) are having a tough time lately. Anna’s got some writer’s block to get past, as she jumps from children’s books to adult fiction. And Nick, well, he’s had a thing with the girl upstairs for some time, now, and Anna knows it.
In an attempt to reconnect and rekindle their relationship, the two scribes take to the Swiss Alps to get away from their city lives and find inspiration for Anna to complete her book. To pass the time on their drive out to their rental, they play a game, naming different animals where the other of the two names the first letter. Then they hit a sheep in the road and reality as they, and we along with them know it, begins to crack.
Animals starts with understandable lapses in memory on Anna and then Nick’s part, mistaking dreams for waking life. The unreal is shot just as plainly as the (we think?) real, blending the two seamlessly enough that the distinction begins to lose meaning for the audience, as well. Who hallucinates what and when becomes just as key to discerning the happenings in Animals as the question of if they’re even hallucinating at all.
The leads here are the anchors to selling the deft direction from Greg Zglinski. Zglinski trusts his actors to bring his subjectively-viewed world to life, just as it twists and bends away from reality in ever-branching ways. Anna, especially, as played by Minichmayr, gives the viewer someone to hold onto even as she herself sees her surroundings spin out of control. What starts as subtle progresses to the overt by film’s end, as the anchors Zglinski tethers the audience to become unmoored. It’s not a flashy or spectacle-driven kind of unreality Zglinski surrounds his leads with here, and that’s what makes it so convincing to both the viewer and Anna or Nick.
The best comparison I could offer, without giving anything away here, is that Animals is an experience akin to watching David Lynch direct a Beckett play. The surreal is minimalist in nature, but more convincing for it. Seek it out if you like weirdness with a strong sense of purpose behind it.