Animals: SXSW Review

Animals - H - 2014
A moving but unsensational addiction drama.

David Dastmalchian and Kim Shaw play two drug addicts in love.

AUSTIN – Two intelligent, self-aware lovers who once belonged to the middle class endure a dehumanizing, criminal existence in Animals, Collin Schiffli's portrait of a partnership in addiction. Grimy and sad but not sensationalistic, the debut feature is like Drugstore Cowboy drained of its hipness and sex appeal -- not a bad thing, certainly, but also not something that ensures strong commercial prospects beyond a limited art house run.

David Dastmalchian and Kim Shaw play Jude and Bobbie, who live in a car and employ a catalog of little scams to earn money for heroin: selling shoplifted CDs, crashing weddings and walking off with gifts, entering emergency rooms with fictional ailments and exiting with pilfered pharmaceuticals. In their most dangerous routine, Bobbie gets dolled up and visits men expecting a prostitute, fleeing with payment before rendering any services.

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Flashbacks reveal an earlier time when the couple had an apartment together, and without dialogue spelling it out, the actors jointly express an awareness of how far they've fallen. The characters occasional speak of quitting dope, but in the meantime there's work to be done. The camera frames them intimately, and Dastmalchian in particular has a face inspiring wary sympathy; when Jude makes casual reference to "my lingual nerve," you wonder what kind of education is going to waste here.

The drama of addiction and routine lawbreaking is compounded by health scares and inevitable overdose; events pull the two apart, at least for a time -- long enough for them to remember they aren't a single organism, with each dependent on the other for recovery. Schiffli envisions a way out for the characters, and spends a beautiful moment embracing that idea while referring back to a bit of imagery at the film's start. But he doesn't promise it will come true, and even this moment of refuge is fraught with so much anxiety one can hardly avoid the awareness of how temporary recovery can be.

Production Company: Animals the Film, LLC

Cast: David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw, John Heard, John Hoogenakker

Director: Collin Schiffli

Screenwriter: David Dastmalchian

Producers: Chris Smith, Mary Pat Bentel

Executive producers: Victor Morgenstern, Jennifer Grace Farmer

Director of photography: Larkin Donley

Production designer: Caity Birmingham

Music: Ian Hultquist

Costume designer: Kelsey Ettman

Editor: Amanda Griffin

Sales: ICM

No rating, 85 minutes