Film Review: Animals (2019)

Holliday Grainger excels in Laura Jane Unsworth’s ferociously compelling Animals

“What do you do when you’re not standing around in bars being enigmatic?”

Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel of the same name, Animals is a pretty darn special film from Sophie Hyde, perhaps a little unassuming at first glance but soon revealing itself as richly layered with something special in every frame, especially when Holliday Grainger – delivering a career-best performance – is in shot.

The film hooks on the friendship between Laura and Tyler, BFFs who have literally painted the town (Dublin) red throughout their twenties, and how their relationship alters once Laura meets handsome pianist Jim and priorities start to shift. All the messiness of friendship is here in a brilliantly complex portrayal of the difficulties that come with having to grow up.

Even then, that description seems reductive. What is remarkable about Animals is its refusal to conform to prevailing cinematic trends in depicting female friendship. The writing is often poetic, the aesthetic is always unpredictable, and there’s a refreshing lack of moralising that accompanies their everyday debauchery.

Holliday Grainger is outstanding as Laura, the one making tentative steps away from co-dependency to pursue her artistic ambitions and Jim too, a quietly lovely performance from Fra Fee. She’s a ball of frustrated desire that doesn’t quite know how to untangle itself and Hyde allows Grainger the room to evoke this with a bare minimum of words, focusing instead on what is simmering under, subtle looks on her face saying so much more. 

Alia Shawkat is more overtly funny as the acerbic Taylor, sharper edges delineating her as the one desperate to be more interesting. But the real power in Animals is in seeing this pair together, their friendship displayed almost as extensions of their selves, so palpably convincing is the chemistry between them. Bryan Mason’s cinematography turns the city streets of Dublin into an empty playground and it is one you will most definitely want to go and play in. Highly recommended.

Animals is released on DVD on 6th January 2020
Photo: Tamara Hardman/Bernard Walsh

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