VOD film review: Animals
Bianca Garner | On 07, Jan 2020
Director: Sophie Hyde
Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermot Murphy
Animals is the second feature film from Australian director Sophie Hyde, and it’s a breath of fresh air that we needed. On paper Animals sounds like so many familiar indie rom-coms that have come before it: two girls living together have their friendship threatened when one of the girls falls in love and decides to move out of their shared apartment. However, Animals is anything but cliched. This is a wild film full of energy and it’s a very dark comedy, going places you would expect it to. Holliday Grainger’s Laura and Alia Shawkat’s Tyler would give Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Lena Dunham’s Hannah a run for their money. We’ve seen these types of female characters grace the small screen, so it’s wonderful to see them portrayed on the big screen.
Based on the book of the same name by Emma Jane Unsworth (who penned the screenplay), we follow the lives of wannabe writer Laura and her American best friend Tyler, who are attempting to keep up the party lifestyle of their early 20s as they go into their 30s. Laura has been working on her novel for years, and throughout the film we see her attempting to write, only to be distracted by Tyler who lulls her away with the promise of a sunny afternoon in a beer garden.
The girls do everything together: they share a bed, they drink and take drugs together, they even use the bathroom at the same time (making sure to check their urine to see if they’re still fit and healthy). However, then comes Jim (Fra Fee), a concert pianist who catches Laura’s attention and threatens to destroy the girls’ friendship. Things get messier when Laura and Jim decide to get engaged.
Hyde’s direction is superb: we begin with a montage of the girls night’s out in Dublin. It’s fast paced, wild and has a surreal, magical dreamlike quality to it. Hyde manages to capture what it’s like to try and recall the events of the night before the morning after; everything feels like an out-of-body experience. If you can get through the opening 10 minutes then it’s more than likely that you’ll enjoy the film.
Cinematographer Bryan Mason, who also edits the film, worked with Hyde on her previous feature, 52 Tuesdays. Aside from Animal’s fly-on-the wall-style visuals, which are perfect for the film, the script is another highlight. It seems only right that Unsworth adapted her own book, as she captures the spirit of the characters on screen. The only slight difference is that the book was set in Manchester and the film takes place in Dublin. This was an interesting decision by Hyde (partly down to financial reasons, and the city’s literary background) and it pays off.
Grainger and Shawkat make a perfect pair, and the film wouldn’t work if it weren’t for their chemistry. Neither of their characters is particularly likeable, and that’s the point. It’s such a realistic depiction of the contemporary, post-modern lifestyle; although the film’s openness and crudeness might not be to everyone’s taste, and, on the outside, it might appear that Laura and Tyler are out-of-control and approaching burnout, the film shows us that they are stronger than that. There isn’t a sense of regret for all those years, because they weren’t wasted: they helped shape who these women are today.
Ultimately, Animals is a truthful portrayal of the complexities of friendship and the weird transitional period that we all encounter going from our 20s into our 30s. The film isn’t exactly your traditional coming-of-age picture; as Hyde stated in an interview with the BFI, the film is about coming-of-age into a new part of adulthood, rather than coming-of-age once and then remaining an adult forever. We keep coming of age. As we enter a new year, that feels somewhat reassuring, especially because this decade’s name is the roaring 20s. This is a film that inspires you to unleash your inner animal.