By Don Simpson | October 20, 2013
Director: Marçal Forés
Writers: Marçal Forés, Aintza Serra, Enric Pardo
Starring: Oriol Pla, Augustus Prew, Dimitri Leonidas, Roser Tapias, Javier Beltrán, Martin Freeman, Maria Rodríguez, Katia Klein, Emma Lacostena, Alba Ribas
A shy Catalan high schooler, Pol (Orial Pla) resides with his older brother, Llorenc (Javier Beltran). While not at school, Pol hangs out with his best friend, a walking and talking Teddy Bear named Deerhoof. Pol knows better than to confide in either of his two friends at school — Laia (Rosier Tapas) and Mark (Dimitri Leonidas) — about Deerhoof, so no one knows about Deerhoof except for Llorenc who thinks Pol is crazy; and considering that no one else can see or hear Deerhoof, Llorenc’s diagnosis seems to be pretty spot on.
Still trying to navigate his own sexual orientation, Pol naively ignores the flirtatious advances of Laia. It is not until Pol becomes obsessed with two mysterious new students — Clara (Maria Rodríguez) and Ikari (Augustus Prew) — that his sexual preference begins to grow more apparent. When Clara dies mysteriously, the door is opened for Pol to bond with Ikari over Charles Burns’ graphic novels.
For all intents and purposes, Pol sheds Deerhoof for Ikari — a choice that will probably haunt Pol until the end of his life. Ironically enough, Ikari seems to be the one character who would be most receptive to Deerhoof’s existence (or lack thereof). Ikari ups the ante on Pol’s brooding angst, dragging him down a black hole of self-mutilation. While maybe a bit too shy to sexually experiment with Ikari, Pol becomes addicted to the penetration of Ikari’s blade.
We know that Deerhoof is not real — because, well, Teddy Bears do not walk and talk in reality — but the authenticity of Pol’s other visions are dramatically more blurred. Nightmarishly surreal at its core, uneasy undertones haunt from the periphery of Marçal Forés’ Animals. Repeatedly comparisons to Donnie Darko by critics make perfect sense, as both lead adolescents are driven to madness while transitioning into adulthood. Pol and Donnie each try to escape the sheer randomness of death and the all too real horrors of our modern world by taking solitary journeys with their headphones on, in an erstwhile attempt to stop the world before they have to grow up.
Using Burns’ Black Hole as a central reference point in terms of moods and metaphors, Forés echoes the graphic novel’s keen perspective of the potential darkness of sexual awakening and emotional maturation. Forés paints Pol’s portrait of adolescent angst with a discordant indie rock soundtrack (Deerhoof is named after one of Pol’s favorite bands) and Eduard Grau’s (A Single Man, Finisterrae) subtly menacing cinematography; occasionally lightening up the tone a bit with some humor, courtesy of the Teddy Bear. Bridges, tunnels, lakes and forests all play prevalent roles in the landscape of Pol’s life, signifying the Sisyphean repetitiousness of his tumultuous journey into adulthood. It is also not without purpose that Pol is surrounded by wildlife, as humans are just another breed of animal in Forés’ world; though humans are much, much stranger and crazier.