The trauma of adolescence is always a good starting point for a monster movie, and Jonas Alexander Arnby presents a tender take that is not lacking in sharp teeth.
Maria (Sonia Suhl) lives in a small fishing community in rural Denmark with her father (Lars Mikkelsen) and mother (Sonja Richter), who is in a catatonic state.
She starts working at the local fish-packing plant, but the changes she is going through begin to make her life difficult, and secrets are surfacing.
Arnby establishes an atmosphere of chilly isolation from early on. Maria’s closest relationship is with her father, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s hiding something from her.
The behaviour of her colleagues seems fairly typical, but there seems to be an edge to everything. There’s a lot going unsaid in Rasmus Birch’s script, although it’s clever enough to know that we don’t need everything spelled out.
The film excels during the family scenes as we get more hints about what is going on. As a kitchen-sink monster movie, complete with escalating tension, violent impulses and Dad trying to carry on as if everything’s fine, it works very nicely indeed.
When the film leaves the house, the generic roots begin to show, but the air of creeping familiarity is tempered by moments of tragedy, wit and swift, brutal violence. Arnby’s careful handling of the material impresses right up to the finale, which carries enough emotional impact to counter the inevitability.
It’s the performances and atmosphere that make When Animals Dream worth hunting down, though. Suhl gives a powerful, naturalistic performance, and Mikkelsen underplays his role beautifully.
While it recalls films like Ginger Snaps and the work of Angela Carter, it doesn’t quite have their raw power. However, as a chilly tale of a young woman striving to escape her family and her claustrophobic small town, it succeeds on its own merits.