Newton’s popular law states, “Every Action has a Reaction,” and I believe, in an enthralling screenplay, even the minor actions of a character, can lead to disastrous impact. A virtuoso director or a writer can en-cash the notion and play around to give it’s audience a clenching narrative experience that one is bound to fabricate thoughts around it. The same happens, in director Dominik Moll’s captivating non-linear thriller, Only the Animals.
The narrative of the film constantly moves to and fro, the non-linear structure that enhances the thriller element of the story. On the very surface level, it portrays five individuals who knowingly or unknowingly play an important role in the death of a woman in Southern France. Only the Animals that is based on Colin Niel’s 2018 French novel “Seules les bêtes“, showcases a band of characters that have such belongingness to the real world, that you would easily be able to find them around you. They look so real that is why their actions scare you, but what are their actions? Let’s dig deep.
Only the Animals opens with a shot of a young black man bike riding through a dusty African village with a goat on his shoulders. The first scene looks weird, as it’s symbolism isn’t cracked until the story finally reveals it’s true nature.
The story moves back to Southern France, where Alice (Laure Calamy), a married woman who is having an affair with a client named Joseph, finds an abandoned car on the side of the road. When police investigate Joseph about it, he simply denies knowing anything about it. The story moves backwards from Joseph’s point of view, and it is where he finds the dead missing woman, Evelyne wrapped in a blanket and hidden away in a corner of his farmhouse.
From here the director, Dominik Moll creates an air of suspense around the lives of five individuals who could be accused of the murder. And so it will go in a film that doesn’t ask you to keep up so much as it encourages you to sink into the mystery and go along for the ride.
The film is divided into five different chapters, from the point of view of five different characters, that exhibits their knowledge of the events, thus inviting you to connect the dots and complete the puzzle of the thriller.
Non-Linear Narrative of Only the Animals
French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard famously quoted, “I agree that a film should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order.” And the substantial number of great non-linear films, really validate the notion. Only the Animals, sufficiently justifies it’s non-linear narrative as it goes back and forth in time, to spell a magical experience upon its viewers.
In the beginning, we experience the story from Joseph’s point of view, who finds Evelyne dead, but as Joseph settles down the dead body, we go back in time, to know who Evelyne really was, and how she ended up in Southern France. Evelyne’s affair with a girl, Marion leads both of them to the place, but the story isn’t as simple as it sounds like. With the advent of Marion in Southern France, a larger vibration is created in the life of one of the most prominent characters of the story, Michel (Alice’s husband). Michel has been chatting with a girl named Amandine on the internet, who in actuality looks exactly like Marion in photos. This id is, however, is handled by a young man in Africa who pines for the big score as a “brouteur,” a cyber-scammer who trolls internet chat rooms trying to trick lonely hearts (“penguins” in scammer lingo) like Michel into sending them money. Thus, until the end of the story, the lives of all these characters are connected with visible threads and putting pieces to puzzles, keeping the viewer’s invested as well.
Only the Animals, on a thematic level, is about an escape from loneliness, whether it’s Alice’s husband Michel who is trying to find love online, or Evelyne’s love affair Marion, who follows her to Southern France, in order to stay with her. But in the duality of our own nature and selfish reasons, we are invested in someone else, other than the person pursuing us, like for Evelyne, she just wants to keep the affair with Marion casual and physical, and with the African guy cheating Michel, he wants to make money so he can buy a big house for his love interest. Thus, it is selfishness tagged as love. One of the film’s most striking dialogues even says, “Love is not about giving what you have, Love is giving what you don’t have,” thus the motives of greed, doesn’t have any room in the realm of love.
Only the Animals is non-linear, multi-layered mystery thriller that tries to solve two salient mysteries, one who killed Evelyne, and second, why does our primitive pull of sex and love lead us to commit immoral acts. The first one, though, solved in the end, the second still remains an argumentative question on human psychics. Thus, Dominik Moll’s engaging thriller is a tale that alerts us, not to fall prey to our loneliness and step back from idealizing romance until we are very sure of it, especially in this real fake social world, because Prevention is always better than cure, no matter what you do in life.
It is a modern-day eye-opener that is amplified with an enchanting mystery around it. If you love slow drama but engaging thriller movies, it is a must-watch. Only the Animals isn’t available online right now.
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