Greg Zlinksi directs and co-writes Animals (Tiere), a Polish surrealist thriller exploring the dynamic of an unhappily married couple. Whilst there is some intrigue and ambition is the film’s unsettling surrealist angle, this feels bogged down by a narrative that feels overly conventional and repetitive.
Whilst escaping the city, Nick (Philipp Hochmair) and Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) hit a sheep on a country road. This triggers a series of curious events that leave them uncertain whether they are experiencing a dream or reality. This confusion only heightens the tension between the already unsettled couple.
Zlinksi fills his film with numerous twists and turns from the onset – never confirming whether the events he presents are real or imagined. Opening with a shot of a woman falling from her apartment window, Animals is filled with bizarre surreal events that craft a sense of unease throughout. As the narrative progresses and Nick and Anna’s connection with the woman is built-up, events only get stranger – heightened by the run-in with the sheep on the country road. Zlinksi prevents this event as a tipping point when Nick and Anna fall fully into surrealist territory – paranoia growing between the pair, reflected in twisted mind-games as they grow further resentful (Anna believing Nick is a serial cheat and fantasising of violent ways to enact her revenge). Talking French cats, the switching of night and day, and suicidal birds make up some of the strange events that fill Animals.
Whilst the intriguing surreal elements in Jörg Kalt and Zlinski’s screenplay provide a stirring sense of unease and tension, these moments are generally few and far between. Much of the narrative of Animals is composed of petty feuding and frosty exchanges between Anna and Nick, with the film falling prey to overly conventional marriage break-up drama. This can mean that the non-surrealist scenes between Nick and Anna feel languid and tiresome, resulting in a generally uneven viewing experience. This fractured rapport between the pair means that we are never fully engaged in the relationship between the couple and subsequently do not have a huge investment in their fate.
Piotr Jaxa’s cinematography brings some life to Animals with evocative exploration of the rural countryside locations. The isolated farmhouse makes an intriguing locale for these surrealist events to take place – cut off from the comfort and protection of the urban world. Scenes such as Nick and Anna venturing out in the dark presuming it is daytime add an eerie unsettled quality to Animals, with much of that power lying in the quiet, unassuming way that Jaxa captures these eerie events.
Animals has real moments of intrigue and excitement in its surrealist style, but this is hampered by the trite, conventional marriage break-up narrative at its heart, however.