Review: 'The Animal Kingdom' or Wild Things

Kurt Loder on

Something happened. At first it wasn't clear exactly what. In various small towns in France, men started sprouting dorsal bones and tails and great feathered wings. A person whipping the air with newly grown tentacles ran amok in the seafood section of a local supermarket. A little lizard girl was seen lurking shyly in a lush forest. At first, the local populace was horrified by all of this. Eventually, though, as is so often the case in human affairs, what initially seemed a terrifying abomination came to be regarded as simply a shift in the way of the world.

This is where things stand at the beginning of "The Animal Kingdom," a new French film made in the mode of poetic science fiction. The picture gets underway with a man named Francois (Romain Duris) driving with his teenage son, Emile (Paul Kircher), to a remote clinic in the South of France -- a facility dedicated to the care and study of the new mutants. Well, not quite so new anymore. When father and son arrive at the clinic, we see Paul in a doctor's waiting room, and, sitting not far away, hazily out of focus, a person with what appears to be the head of a bird and the darting tongue of a reptile. A mother's voice is heard: "Stop that," she says. Francois offers an indulgent smile. "It's fine," he tells her.

Francois has considerable experience in these things. His wife Lana -- Paul's mother --- slowly transformed into a wolf a while back and is now a resident in this clinic. When Paul goes to her room to visit, we see that its walls are covered with bloody claw marks and note the muted snarling in the air.

"The Animal Kingdom" is more of an old-school message movie than a standard horror film (despite the occasional character with a head like a tumor). And its message -- basically a plea for human tolerance -- while unabashedly banal, can always bear repeating. Director and co-writer Thomas Cailley tells his story through a series of simple contrasts. In the school where transfer student Paul has been enrolled, we note that while most of the kids are open-minded about mutants (except for one boy who counsels the need to learn "combat techniques"), their elders are mostly intransigent in their opposition (except for one woman who has lost a family member to the merciless plague). The olds refer to the mutants as "monsters," while the youths advise getting used to their presence. "It's exponential," says one. "It won't stop. It's pointless locking them up. Learn to live together."

The most dramatically fashioned character is a young man called Fix (Tom Mercier), who is turning into a hawk (his nose is now little more than a smashed beak). But Fix has found an unexpected bright side to his fate -- he's determined to learn how to actually fly (leading to one of the movie's most rousing sequences).


Although the presence in the cast of Adele Exarchopoulos ("Blue Is the Warmest Colour") seems to promise at least a little romance, if not more, her character, a small-town police sergeant, is limply underwritten. This leaves Duris to deal with affairs of the heart: When Paul asks his dad what his relationship with Lana was like after she started turning, he say: "It was different, that's all. We confronted it together. It was still her. It changed nothing. I still kissed her."


Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.


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