Thomas Cailley made a big impact in Cannes with his first film, Love at First Fight (what a terrible English title!), which was presented at Directors' Fortnight in 2014 before meeting a commercial success and giving Adèle Haenel her first French film award for best newcomer. Despite the acclaim it took the French director another eight years before making his new film, The Animal Kingdom, which opened the Un Certain Regard selection earlier this week with an intriguing premise.In it, society finds itself in the grips of the wave of mutations, with humans randomly and slowly morphing into animals. This surely is a bold idea and one that was fraught with pitfalls. It would be easy to descend into "Manimals" like antics without the right special effects and a promising idea did not guarantee a success. Yet Thomas Cailley's second film is a much more assured film that Love at First Fight, which suffered from having too many narrative turn and basically being about four different films art once with the uneasy mix of romantic comedy and doomsday thriller.
The French director is not interested in the reason behind these mutations and in fact the script is a case study on how to deal with a great starting point without being lumbered with exposition but without losing its audience either. The impressive opening scene has father François (Romain Duris) and son Paul (Emile Kircher) stuck in a traffic jam behind an ambulance only for some distressingly loud noises to emerge from it before a massive but unseen presence breaks free and escapes. Yet we quickly learn that the wave of transformations has already started and breaking some families apart as they see some of their members slowly change and lose their humanity...
The Animal Kingdom is spectacular but it is very much character-driven as the human impact is keenly felt, when loved ones turn into unrecognisable and savage beings just as the notion of humanity itself is being challenged, with the way these new animals are being treated and hunted. Thankfully eschewing CGI for some truly impressive and inspired practical effects, the Animal Kingdom skilfully weaves in fantasy with a twist of body horror and family drama before becoming a coming of age with its share of heartbreak, acceptance and hope.
An unusual yet ultimately terribly affecting story, The Animal Kingdom is quite unlike anything we have seen before.
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★★★★☆
Official Selection, Un Certain Regard
The Animal Kingdom. Directed by Thomas Cailley. Starring Romain Duris, Emile Kircher...