It's gritty and grim, but "Animals" is also a gripping portrait of young junkies in love. Director Collin Schiffli, making his feature debut, and David Dastmalchian, the impressive writer and actor here, show insight and restraint as they explore the desperate world of drug addiction.
Dastmalchian and his equally fine costar, Kim Shaw, portray Jude and Bobbie, a car-dwelling pair of lovers, enablers and co-conspirators who pull off crafty scams and petty thefts to finance their heroin habit. We're not told a lot about their pasts, but we do know their present is aimless and filled with risk and anxiety. Their health isn't great either.
It's clear they're a matched set heading for a fall. What's intriguing here, aside from their brash survival tactics, is how Jude and Bobbie's inevitable downturn occurs and what its unpredictable — yet wholly credible — aftermath looks like.
Schiffli maintains significant tension throughout, whether depicting the couple's frantic drug getting (and using) or their more precarious con jobs. Most daring: Bobbie poses as a call girl, ripping off her johns and escaping before any clothes are shed.
John Heard pops up as a kindly security guard, but the film is laser-focused on Jude and Bobbie, who are brought to life with stark poignancy by Dastmalchian and Shaw. Despite all the bad things they do to themselves and those in their path, Jude and Bobbie retain a strange sense of decency and a deep devotion to each other.
Cinematographer Larkin Donley vividly captures the movie's varied Chicago locales as well as the leads' anguished faces.
MPAA Rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.