THE ANIMAL KINGDOM (LE REGNE ANIMAL)( France 2023) ***½

Directed by Thomas Cailley

 

Films of the dystopian genre often have one parent and one daughter or son escape from predators while etching out survival in the country.  THE ANIMAL KINGDOM puts a bit of spin on the genre with a father and son left alone in the dystopian futuristic society in which the mother had turned into an animal.

Set in the near future, Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom (La Règne animal) is a trippy French thriller about a mysterious phenomenon that is gradually transforming parts of the population into human-animal hybrids.

There is a disease unexplained (the film avoiding to offer any clues) that turns humans into animals.  Mother is supposed to be recuperating and getting better.  But the son is transforming.  The father tries his best to protect his son.

When humans start sprouting things like feathers, beaks, wings, or scales, these “critters” – as they are derogatorily called – are considered dangerous.  In fact, they are sent to specialized centres in an attempt to stop their mutations and control their seemingly violent tendencies.  When his afflicted wife is sent to such a facility in the south of France, François (Romain Duris) moves with his teenage son Émile (Paul Kircher) to be near her.  But a convoy carrying mutants (including his wife) crashes, scattering the occupants into the forest.  As François searches the wilds for his wife, he loses his grip on Émile, who himself has started to transform.

  Also in the mix are a policewoman (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who is at odds with her colleagues, Émile’s school friend (Billie Blain) who has overcome issues of her own, and a bird-like mutant (Tom Mercier) who opens Émile’s eyes to the humanity of the creatures in the forest.

The film’s impressive most intimate moment occurs when father and son are searching in the forest for their transformed mother.  The father is playing the mum’s favourite song, cheesy though he admits it may be, while both are screaming her name “Lana” in the car as it whizzes by the forest.

Though not a comedy, director Thomas Cailley captures a few laugh-out laughs with his superb timing - either dramatic or comedic.  When Emile’s wound from a supposed dog bite, is stitched up at the hospital, the nurse tells him, that if happens again, he has to be put down.”  “The dog, not the boy,” he says in what is a rare lighter moment in an otherwise serious movie.

The film was shot during the pandemic which makes the incidents in the film - the unknown disease and the scramble to contain and understand the disease all the more relevant.

The film runs a bit over 2 hours with a few stretched-out parts.  The film could have been shortened and made more efficient.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM is more of an emotional drama of relationships set in a sci-fi setting rather than a sci-fi dystopian thriller.  It succeeds well with director Cailley bringing his roller-coaster emotional ride to a satisfactory climax.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM opened Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2023,  winning many awards, including five at the 2024 Césars(Visual Effects, Sound, Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Music) and New Voices New Visions at Palm Springs 2024.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM opens on March 15in Toronto (TIFF Lightbox) and Vancouver (VIFF Centre)!

 

Trailer: 

 

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