Switzerland/ Poland/ Austria, 95 min
Dir. Greg Zglinski
With Anna (Birgit Minichmayr) and Nick’s (Philipp Hochmair) marriage on shaking ground following his affair with a neighbor, the couple venture to a cabin in the Swiss Alps. In addition to providing them some much needed time together, the trip is meant to boost their creative endeavors. Anna, a writer, is struggling with a novel and Nick, a chef, is intent on researching the region’s cuisine. But the tone for the getaway is set early on when they hit a sheep on a country road en route to the cabin. A series of increasingly inexplicable occurrences all but guarantee the couple will not be having a peaceful time for which they hoped. Meanwhile Mischa (Mona Petri), the woman they hired to watch their apartment, is being harassed by Harald (Michael Ostrowski), a man convinced she is his deceased ex-girlfriend Andrea, the neighbor with whom Nick had the affair. Like with Anna and Nick, reality appears to be crumbling around Mischa.
Whenever a synopsis draws comparison to Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, I take it like a challenge. To aim so high, the film better bring the goods. Rarely they do. In the case of Greg Zglinski‘s Animals, I was left thinking, “You know what? Yeah, they earned it.” Animals is a truly engrossing descent into madness; it’s dark and disorienting but also absolutely mesmerizing. It’s canvas is lush with abstractions, and unexpected symmetries and repetitions. It’s anything but an easy watch, but ultimately damn rewarding.
Early on, Anna and Mischa are linked via similar injuries–Anna’s from the run-in with the sheep; Mischa’s from a fall. Zglinski teases viewers with the possibility that the injuries are impetus to all the strangeness that follows, but there’s a lingering feeling of something far more sinister and primal is occurring. What starts as distrust and paranoia between Anna and Nick grows into the bizarre. They hear different things than what the other is saying; see different things; at times their out of sync with each other as though time itself is breaking down. With Mischa, the hows and whys of her circumstances haunt us as we witness her avoidance of Harald and her courting of the doctor who treated her, Tarek (Mehdi Nebbou). Like Anna and Nick, something is off with Mischa’s perception of time. She’s seen things that haven’t occurred yet, or possibly have occurred to her but not to the others involved. Though she appears relatively collected, we’re treated into the underlying turmoil through the increasing disarray of the apartment to which she’s supposed to be tending.
The entire cast delivers potent performances, with Minichmayr as a particular stand-out as Anna. It’s hard to decide if her increasing moments of confusion or far too brief moments of lucidity and tenderness are more heartbreaking. Minichmayr presents the spectrum of human emotion masterfully.
Under Zglinski’s assured direction, the growing dread is palpable despite being unexplained. Like staring into the abyss of a black hole, just watching invites the fear of falling and being lost forever. The culmination of the film–or, more specifically, the experiences within the film–is devastating. A traditional, linear interpretation could be applied, but where’s the fun in that? Embrace the dark unknown and, perhaps, watch with a loved one at your side.