“Maybe I’m not really here,” ponders Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) roughly halfway through Greg Zglinski’s slippery and fascinating genre-bender Animals. It’s a big question, no doubt, and it’s one that spreads like a virus through each of the characters in the film. Versions of events differ, characters’ histories shift, and timelines refuse match up. It’s an unsettling place to be, both for the characters and the viewer, and it makes for compelling watching.
Anna, a children’s author, and her chef husband Nick (Philipp Hochmairare) are taking a break and heading for the Swiss Alps. They’ve had a rough time of it recently, as she’s been suffering from writer’s block and he’s been cheating on her with their upstairs neighbour. Hopefully the holiday will allow them to reconnect and to stop having dreams about either murdering or being murdered by their spouse.
When they hit a sheep while driving in the countryside, their holiday seems to be doomed before it even really starts, but there seems to be something more than bad luck at work.
Animals scoops up ideas and moods from a wide range of genre films and swirls them around, never really allowing the audience to get a grip on what they’re watching. There’s the isolated cabin, perched precariously on the edge of a mountain slope, with a deeply sinister locked door. There’s strange animal business that begins to recall Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, there’s a husband who’s seemingly uncaring as his wife begins to suffer massive losses of time (or does she?), and there’s a case of mistaken identity back home, as Mischa (Mona Petri), the woman who’s looking after Anna and Nick’s flat, is stalked by the frantic ex-boyfriend of the upstairs neighbour.
The specifics of what exactly is going on and how don’t seem to interest Zglinski and his co-writer Jörg Kalt as they execute several rug pulls so surprising and deft that they’re laughter-inducing in their audacity. It’s beautifully atmospheric and switches between domestic drama, black comedy and horror so confidently that you can’t help but be swept up in it.
Characters’ worst fears are confirmed and then promptly dispelled. Connections appear in the most surprising and seemingly nonsensical ways. And all the while the script and the editing (by Karina Ressler) do the incredible job of both keeping us cluelessly floundering and utterly intrigued. The performances from the cast are excellent, particularly the three leads, and this is a striking, beguiling and quite brilliant piece of work.
Animals was seen and reviewed at the Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information, visit their website.