The crisply barren, beautiful terrain of coastal northern Jutland in Denmark forms the backdrop for Jonas Arnby’s first feature, “When Animals Dream,” an atmospheric horror story with a compelling main character.
Sullen, gangly 19-year-old Marie (newcomer Sonia Suhl) lives with her parents, a reserved dad (Lars Mikkelsen) and a wheelchair-bound, sickly mute for a mom (Sonja Richter). Marie endures razzing at the fishery where she works but also has received kind attention from cute coworker Daniel (Jakob Oftebro).
When a blotchy rash on her chest begins to sprout hair, and Marie notices her personality becoming more aggressive, she makes a startling connection between her mother’s “illness,” the stares from towns folk and a collusion between Dad and the family doctor.
There’s more than a bit of “Carrie” to this Scandinavian werewolf tale, but Arnby is less interested in arty melodrama than the tension between an individual and society as played out in the revelation of a family secret. Though the careful mood is invariably dissipated when it comes time to kill, kill, kill, Arnby’s ace in the hole remains Suhl, a young actress of Streep-ian intensity, by turns watchful and vulnerable, fearful and forthright as she often wordlessly brings to life a transformation she would rather own than see shame in. Her eyes alone convey the fraught world of “When Animals Dream” as much as that cold landscape.
“When Animals Dream.”
MPAA rating: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood. Also on VOD.
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