The Animal Kingdom


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

The Animal Kingdom
"The aerial shots of the forest and the believable transformations with feathers, wings, beaks and claws as well as fish scales, make for riveting viewing." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Director Thomas Cailley made an arresting debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 as part of the Directors’ Fortnight with Love At First Fight or Les Combattants. He’s back in Un Certain Regard (with his brother David again as chief cinematographer) with an ecological piece of sci-fi fantasy that is breathtakingly well-paced and visually arresting.

During the break he has been working on television series but here he exploits the big screen experience in his take on the state of the planet in which people are literally being turned into animals of various descriptions.

The opening scenes in which a father and son (Romain Duris and Paul Kircher) are stuck in a horrendous traffic jam with the family’s pet dog in tow, could not be more mundane and barely prepare the audience for what is about to be unleashed. It would be churlish to divulge any more details at risk of being a spoilsport.

The film is filtered through the relationship between Duris and Kircher who already have to cope, it transpires, with a mother who has been turned into a she-wolf. To potentially aid her recovery, the family are given the option of locating to southwest France, which is Calley’s home turf.

Once in the countryside and with a new home in a rural cabin, a strange metamorphosis starts to happen to the son, who begins to transform into a canine-like creature. His forays into the forest see him strike up a friendship with a bird man named Fix (Tom Mercier), who is just learning to exercise his physical process to the full.

Meanwhile Duris finds that his wife has escape from the van transporting her and others from Paris to the new facility and enlists the help of a local police officer (played sympathetically by Adèle Exarchopoulos). At the same time his son is coping with changes to his spine and a furry pelt. He still manages to attend the local school, hide the symptoms and become involved with a classmate (Billie Blain).

Cailley highlights comparisons between the incomers and the locals, and their attitudes to the strange creatures that emerge from the undergrowth. Prejudice against anyone who is 'different' makes obvious parallels to our times and the treatment of immigrants or the LGBTQ+ communities.

The army is called in to hunt the escapees with the local policewoman left on the sidelines to look after the father and his son.

The aerial shots of the forest and the believable transformations with feathers, wings, beaks and claws as well as fish scales, make for riveting viewing. The sequence in which Emile helps Fix to fly has all the excitement and momentum of a roller-coaster ride.

The father-son relationship is both touching and convincing with the youthful Kircher developing his character with skill and audacity while Duris makes a plausible dad who has to face the inevitable dilemma of what is best for the mutating boy.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2023
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Sci-fi adventure set in a world where humans are mutating into "creatures".

Director: Thomas Cailley

Writer: Thomas Cailley

Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Romain Duris, Paul Kircher

Year: 2023

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: France

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