I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like writer/director Baptiste Rouveure’s feature debut Anonymous Animals, which recently made its U.S. Premiere at Screamfest...
...There’s something about a film opening with the sound of a screaming fox that sets the tone unlike anything else, and Rouveure seems to have harnessed the uncanny nature of it and used it as a template for his work. I mentioned how casually unsettling the cry of a screaming fox is in my review for Screamfest’s Caveat, but if you haven’t heard it, it sounds almost exactly like a person in danger, both animal and human at once. Anonymous Animals takes a page from this natural crossroads and seeks to blur the line between animal tendencies and humanity to near indistinguishability.
Rouveure and his team have created a fresh, ambitious strain of horror that, while not entirely in-your-face, manages to hook under your skin. Anonymous Animals inverts the societal roles of humans and animals and forces us to take a critical eye to the treatment of each. People are often more comfortable turning a blind eye to how animals get treated in certain situations, but it’s much harder to ignore when we see that same violence enacted upon our own bodies.
I don’t really believe in “elevated horror” as a concept, good horror is just good horror, but Animals is artistic horror. It is both beautiful and unsettling to watch. It trusts us to pick up on what’s happening so much that it doesn’t incorporate any dialogue whatsoever. It is a minimalist exercise in using the tools of the trade—cinematography, sound design, and makeup—to paint its brutal picture. No one ever speaks. No human elements are ever firmly placed on either side of the traps. It is merely the Animals, beings in animal masks so detailed we forget they’re not actually people under there, vs the Humans, chained up and shuffled around like cattle and made to fight each other and be caged like dogs. Neither emits any sound beyond snuffling or crying out.
The cinematography by Kevin Brunet and Emmanuel Dauchy is visually striking and absolutely vital to the articulation of the story. The camerawork involved in shooting the captive people struggling to understand and escape their situation was subtle and masterful. The close-ups on the people’s panicked eyes as they realize just how trapped they are and the fluid yet frenzied camera motion as they rush around their enclosure seeking escape echo common ways animals are ordinarily shot in most other films. Several scenarios our captives find themselves in are ones society predominantly tries to turn a blind eye to, from dog fighting to hunting to killing for consumption. Just as in reality, almost none of the film’s violence is directly shown on camera. It lives instead on the fringes of the camera’s reach, leaving us with only the sound of the act and the ensuing silence of its completion. Théo Hourbeigt and the entire sound design team deserve acknowledgement for their work in bringing the scenarios of violence to their full potential and giving them more of an impact.
Though no characters are ever given names, I would be remiss if I did not give the actors their due. They may not have needed to speak, but the roles they were given were intense and demanding, both physically and emotionally. Their ability to emote and articulate without words is no easy feat to accomplish, but each of them does it remarkably well. They inhabit their roles as if they sprung from this constructed mirror-world of fear and panic at the hands of voiceless animals, and their distress seeps under our skin as we watch them struggle against the odds for freedom.
Baptiste Rouveure’s website describes Anonymous Animals as “a film about the animal’s place in our societies”. It’s a deceptively simple description, but there feels to be a little more at work here. The film’s placement of man in the place of animal seems less like the usual “one degree away from our baser natures” common to horror and more an exercise in radical empathic alignment. Both parties at work in this film are the titular anonymous animals, but perhaps seeing fear play out across faces that look like ours is the more impactful move. Whatever silent, ultimately bleak story is being woven here, there’s no denying traces of it will come away stuck in your head.
By Katelyn Nelson
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