Craig J. Clark — Nov. 24th 2015
Strictly speaking, 2014’s When Animals Dream isn’t a werewolf film, but since it’s a coming of age story about a young woman who, like her mother, is genetically disposed to grow thick hair all over her body — and become short-tempered and aggressive to boot — it’s close enough to count for this month’s Full Moon Feature. Set in a provincial fishing village in Denmark, When Animals Dream opens with 16-year-old protagonist Marie (Sonia Suhl, making an assured screen debut) seeing the doctor about a small rash on her chest. This concerns him enough that he submits her to a full examination of her fingernails, gums, and back, along with a barrage of questions about any other symptoms she may be experiencing. What these may be isn’t clear at first, just as there’s some mystery about what condition Marie’s invalid mother (Sonja Richter) suffers from, but it does require her to be given shots by Marie’s rock-steady father (Lars Mikkelsen), who’s also seen shaving her back. Then Marie starts having disturbing dreams in which she’s transforming into some kind of bestial creature and, well, do the math.
Even if they had eschewed the supernatural angle, director Jonas Alexander Arnby and screenwriter Rasmus Birch would have been on to something since they paint a compelling portrait of a withdrawn young woman struggling to fit in. New to her job working on a fish disassembly line, Marie has the expected locker-room confrontations with the factory’s alpha-male bully and undergoes a humiliating initiation where she’s pushed headlong into a tank filled with fish heads. (Paging Carrie White.) On the other hand, she also catches the eyes of friendly fisherman Daniel (Jakob Oftebro), whose interest is reciprocated. Heck, he doesn’t even bat an eye when she tells him, “I’m transforming into a monster and I really need to get laid before.” That’s what I call a keeper.
If When Animals Dream has a fault, it’s that once all its cards are on the table, the back half of the film is far too predictable. Still, it’s worth sticking with it to see how Marie is emboldened by the changes she’s going through, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. When she’s leaving home for good and her father’s parting words to her are “Don’t take any crap,” viewers can feel confident she won’t.