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The Animal Kingdom Is a Beautiful Plea for Love and Acceptance

Paul Kircher in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Since I’m a big horror fan, it should come as no surprise that I’m drawn to stories about misfits and outcasts. Horror is very much a misfit genre, so movies like Bride of Frankenstein, Carrie, and Edward Scissorhands resonate with me on a deep level. That’s also why I was intrigued when I first heard about The Animal Kingdom. This film promised to cover that same thematic ground in a fresh, new way, so I knew I had to check it out.

The Animal Kingdom was directed and co-written by Thomas Cailley, and it stars Romain Duris, Paul Kircher, Tom Mercier, and Adele Exarchopoulos. In this world, a new genetic mutation has emerged. It turns people into animals in a slow, almost Ginger Snaps-esque manner, and a teenager named Emile is having a tough time navigating this new reality.

His mother has the condition, and like a lot of other people, he harbors a bigoted animosity towards these human/animal hybrids. He feels like he’s simply lost a parent, and that seems to weigh pretty heavily on him. To make matters worse, he soon finds out that he’s undergoing a transformation of his own, so he’s forced to change his perspective on this new population.

From that brief plot synopsis, it shouldn’t be hard to see how The Animal Kingdom remixes the same basic ideas as the classic movies I mentioned earlier. The human/animal hybrids represent people who deviate from the mainstream norm, and the point of this story is that we should accept people for who they are, even if they’re different from us.

Now, I’m completely on board with that theme, but a movie can’t get by on its message alone. It also needs to tell a compelling story, and thankfully, The Animal Kingdom knocks it out of the park on that front as well. For starters, the two main characters, Emile and his father, are excellent.

A man and a woman looking serious
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Romain Duris in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Actors Romain Duris and Paul Kircher are totally believable in these roles, and they also manage to make their characters likable and approachable. You just can’t help but love seeing them go about their daily lives, so no matter what’s happening on screen, it’s always a joy to watch these two artists practice their craft.

In particular, I have to give huge props to Paul Kircher, the actor who plays Emile. He’s asked to convey a wide range of emotions and vibes, and he completely nails each one of them. To take just a few examples, he has the typical teenage apathy and awkwardness down pat, and he’s equally skilled at weightier emotions like fear, agony, and the confusion and disorientation that naturally accompany the transformation into an animal.

On top of those excellent characters, The Animal Kingdom also features fantastic-looking hybrid creatures. They’re brought to life by a mixture of CGI and practical techniques, and they’re mostly convincing. Sure, there were a few shots here and there where I felt like I was watching CGI, but it never took me out of the film. On the whole, the effects were excellent, so I had no trouble believing that these people really existed.

And last but not least, we have to talk a bit about the emotional resonance of this movie. Not only is the overall message great, but The Animal Kingdom also has a number of scenes that stand out as especially moving.

For instance, there’s a moment when Emile and his father are driving in the woods, and Emile finally accepts that the human/animal hybrids deserve love and respect just like anyone else. He doesn’t explicitly say it, but you can tell by his demeanor and by what he does say that he’s finally come around on this issue, and director Thomas Cailley does an excellent job of making the scene as touching as possible.

A man holding his son close
Romain Duris and Paul Kircher in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Similarly, the final 25 minutes or so lay it on pretty thick, and there’s even an emotional gut punch or two as well. This last act ends the story on a really high note, so it’s almost impossible to walk away without feeling at least the beginnings of a few tears welling up in your eyes.

All that being said, I have to acknowledge that The Animal Kingdom isn’t quite perfect. While I loved just about everything in this film, I did have two issues with it. To begin, there’s a point in Emile’s slow transformation where it feels like we come to a narrative plateau, and the story simply meanders along without really moving forward.

This part of the movie just harps on the same idea or two over and over again, so the filmmakers could’ve easily shaved about 10 or 15 minutes off its runtime. Luckily though, the film doesn’t stay stagnant for very long, and by the time the credits began to roll, I was so enthralled with what I was seeing that I almost forgot about this problem entirely!

Secondly, there’s a police officer named Julia who pops up every now and again, and she’s pretty unnecessary. To be fair, I don’t think this character should’ve been removed entirely, but she’s in the movie way more than she needs to be. Her presence just starts to feel arbitrary after a while, so the film would’ve been better off if her role had been smaller.

However, those are both relatively minor complaints, so at the end of the day, I’m happy to report that I had a really good time with The Animal Kingdom. Sure, it has a few issues, but the good in this movie far outweighs the bad. It features excellent characters, great-looking hybrid creatures, and a really touching story about love and acceptance. In a word, it’s everything I wanted it to be, so if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, I highly recommend that you check it out.

The Animal Kingdom is set to hit theaters and VOD on March 15.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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