South Korea’s Pucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan), July 18, 2014
Aficionados of art-house horror will find much to like in the brooding Argentinian vampire film Darkness by Day and the Danish werewolf/coming-of-age tale When Animals Dream.
Darkness by Day, rich with dreamlike, brooding atmosphere, focuses on Virginia (Mora Recalde), who lives in an old mansion in a remote coastal area of Argentina. When her cousin Julia falls ill during a local rabies outbreak, her father goes to visit the family, and Julia’s sister Anabel (Romina Paula) comes to stay with Virginia. Anabel, too, starts displaying symptoms of illness, and sneaks out of the house at night to hunt for wild animals, which she drains of blood. Virginia notices that Anabel’s behavior continues to grow stranger. When her father returns home after Julia’s death with Anabel’s father, the men grow suspicious of Anabel. The young women begin to grow physically attracted to one another as humans start to become victims.
Director and co-writer Martín Desalvo concentrates on building a rich, moody atmosphere, and the claustrophobic mansion and eerie, wintry wooded area near the sea help his cause greatly. He chooses to concentrate on the developing relationship between the quiet, thoughtful Virginia and her rebellious cousin, and opts for older-fashioned off-screen violence rather than graphic attacks. Desalvo chooses building a sense of dread instead of going for shocks. The finale, however, is chilling.
When Animals Dream is a bit faster paced but still takes its time in unfolding the mysteries behind Marie (Sonia Suhl, who does a wonderful job in her screen debut) and the mysterious physical and emotional changes she begins to go through as her wheelchair-bound mother seemingly gets worse. After Maria begins working at a fish processing plant and catches the eyes of some local lads, she notices that people act mysteriously and sometimes even aggressively when it comes to her and her family. This leads her to question what her mother’s ailment actually is. Maria starts to put together pieces of the familial quandary puzzle as unpleasant things simultaneously begin developing on her body. She also grows attracted to a young man who delivers fish to her place of work. The film has a wry sense of humor at times; for example, during one scene when Maria’s new crush asks her about her immediate future plans, she tells him, “I’m going to kill a lot of people. But first I want to have sex with you.”
Maria makes good on her word. Action, monster mayhem, and grue are all plentiful in Animals’ third act, in which our heroine lets the supernatural take its course. Director Jonas Alexander Arnby, screenwriter Rasmus Birch, and cinematographer Niels Thastum have created a beautiful looking, well-acted movie on a low budget that is sure to surprise viewers around the world, including fans of Ginger Snaps and Let the Right One In.
Turning now from horror to science fiction, as the ending credits began to roll for Terry Gilliam’s wondrous-to-behold The Zero Theorem, I thought to myself, “I haven’t smiled so much and enjoyed watching one man’s descent into madness since Brazil.” The film tells the tale of emotionally fragile programmer Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), who is suffering job burnout and other forms of angst in a world where Blade Runner‘s then-futuristic billboards seem quaint by comparison. He wants to escape from his job but it seems that is not so easy to do. Instead, he is by Management (Matt Damon) assigned to work at home — home being a large, dilapidated church — solving the enigma after which this movie is named, which is also not easy to do, verging on the impossible. He is assisted, to varying degrees, on his task, by — among others — a beautiful young woman (Mélanie Thierry) who he meets at a party thrown by his boss, a work-assigned therapist (Tilda Swinton in a performance that felt, to me, very similar to her role in Snowpiercer), and even Management’s electronics-whiz son (Lucas Hedges).
Terry Gilliam has created another quirky, surreal, dystopian-future world that is a visual marvel on the big screen. Elements of his earlier Brazil are definitely present, but Theorem stands well on its own.