Werewolf movies come along quite often. Some of them serve as wonderfully frightening entries into the subgenre, and others should probably be put down with a silver bullet. The difficult thing about werewolf movies is that, for the most part, they’re different variations of the same formula. What sets the good werewolf films and the bad werewolf films apart really comes down to how you handle that formula. Do you hit the same tired notes as other films in the subgenre, or do you try something different? When Animals Dream certainly tried something different, and I appreciate that.
When Animals Dream is a Danish horror drama film directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby (in his directorial debut) from a script by Rasmus Birch. The film had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, and it stars Sonia Suhl as Marie, a shy sixteen year old who discovers that she is transforming into a werewolf.
As I mentioned above, When Animals Dream is quite different than any other werewolf film. Unfortunately, that will deter as many people as it will interest. For most of the run time, When Animals Dream plays out like a mysterious drama rather than a horror film. The pacing is deliberately slow, choosing to focus on the characters and the weight of the situation more-so than the horror that it involves. Really, there is very little horror at all until the final act of the film, and not even those scenes are particularly scary. The horror element of the film is the weakest thing When Animals Dream has to offer, but that’s not to say that it’s a bad film. In fact, it’s quite good.
When Animals Dream features fantastic performances from Sonia Suhl as Marie, and Lars Mikkelson (Sherlock, House of Cards) as her overly protective father. There is an emotional heft to be found in both performances, with the actors making the latter stages of the film particularly heartbreaking. The cinematography, too, is a highlight of When Animals Dream. Equal parts bleak and beautiful, cinematographer Niels Thastum captures the essence of the film entirely.
While When Animals Dream is a great directorial debut for Jonas Alexander Arnby, I will say that I found one issue with his direction. There are times in which he ratchets up the tension and doesn’t know exactly where to go with it. Throughout the film, especially during a chase scene near the end, Arnby does an amazing job of building suspense only to have the outcome fall flat. That’s a huge factor in the shortcomings of the “scary” scenes, and When Animals Dream is a bit disappointing in that regard.
When Animals Dream is a welcome change of pace within the werewolf subgenre, though anyone specifically looking for a violent, bloody film may be disappointed. There aren’t many scares to be found, but the film works as a drama and as a unique take on something we’ve all seen a million times. While it may lack the bite of greater werewolf films, When Animals Dream is still an effort to be admired.