'When Animals Dream' ('Nar dyrene drommer'): Cannes Review

When Animals Dream Still Cannes - H 2014
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

When Animals Dream Still Cannes - H 2014

Beauty is the beast.

This polished Danish thriller about a sensitive female werewolf is full of restrained horror and tastefully Scandinavian carnage.

CANNES – Something is definitely rotten in small-town Denmark in this crisp little thriller about a shy teenage girl getting in touch with her inner werewolf. Competing in the Critics' Week section at Cannes, Jonas Alexander Arnby's debut feature is a confident and good-looking work that owes more to the Nordic Noir gloom of Let The Right One In than to the sanitized fluff of Twilight or the comic-book carnage of the Underworld franchise.

Essentially a sensitive coming-of-age story with a high body count and a dash of hot werewolf sex, When Animals Dream may prove to be too tastefully Scandinavian for hardcore horror fans and too pulpy for arty European cinephiles. But it already has plenty of positive fan-site buzz and sold widely before Cannes, with TWC-Dimension picking up U.S. rights. It opens domestically in late July, with other territories to follow.

Screen newcomer Sonia Suhl has a great face for the heroine, pale and haunted and otherworldly, like a flesh-and-blood remake of Munch's The Scream. Suhl stars as Marie, a timid teenage outsider living in a tiny fishing village on Denmark's remote northern coast with her overprotective father (Lars Mikkelson, brother of Mads) and wheelchair-bound, heavily sedated mother (Sonja Richter). But when she takes a job at the local fish processing plant, Marie comes to realize that her family is harboring secrets that make her co-workers jumpy and hostile. And what are those strange patches of hair sprouting on her chest?

Reportedly made for a modest $5.5 million, When Animals Dream looks great. The landscape is a gift to cinematographer Niels Thastum, who shoots the desolate rocky coast of Jutland in an attractive watercolor palette of marine blues, sandy sepias and rain-cloud grays. The interior scenes are more prosaic, borrowing their brightly lit, hand-held style from Danish television drama. A handsome score by Mikkel Hess meshes traditional folk melodies with prowling orchestral menace.

When Animals Dream is not the first film to use lycanthropy folklore as an allegory for patriarchal anxieties about female puberty, sexuality and empowerment. Many other movies, notably the comic-horror Ginger Snaps trilogy, have riffed on similar ideas. Arnby and his screenwriter Rasmus Birch could have made more of this contemporary feminist angle, especially when Marie becomes an object both of fascination and revulsion among her male co-workers, who taunt her with cruel pranks that border on sexual assault.

Initially too slow to share its obvious secrets, When Animals Dream only clicks into full-blooded horror mode in its final act when hairy, scary Marie embarks on a Carrie-style rampage of revenge against the neighbors who previously made her life hell. Stylish but slight, Arnby's debut feature ultimately sticks within werewolf movie conventions, adding little fresh to the form. That said, it should appeal to more highbrow genre fans who like a bit of European art house angst with their throat-ripping gore.

Production company: Alphaville Pictures
Cast: Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Sonja Richter, Jakob Oftebro, Mads Riisom
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Screenwriter: Rasmus Birch
Cinematogarpher: Niels Thastum
Editor: Peter Brandt
Production designer: Sabine Hviid
Music: Mikkel Hess
Sales company: Gaumont
No Rating, 84 minutes