Set in the 1980s and based on the 2011 novel by Justin Torres, We the Animals is a loosely autobiographical account of growing up in a highly macho household in upstate New York. The casting of the family is just right. Sheila Vand (Argo, 2012) and Raul Castillo are Ma and Paps, with Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, and Evan Rosado as the brothers Manny, Joel and Jonah.
We the Animals is faithful to the book, which was adapted for the screen by Daniel Kitrosser and Director Jeremiah Zagar, rightly trusting that the source material will work with only minor adjustments. Like the novel the film is fragmentary, up close and personal, sensory.
Each scene is infused with the mysterious things that adults say and do. Together the brothers imitate, push boundaries, and try things on for size. Alone Jonah writes and draws, trying to figure it all out. He is watchful, often with the silence of one who can’t put the puzzle together because some of the pieces are missing. He seeks solace in his journal for fear of exposing his thoughts to those around him. Sometimes part of their world, at others their satellite. They know him before he knows himself.
Drawing parallels with A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White, We the Animals also utilises elements of fantasy: Dreams overlay memories; Journal entries dance as scratchy animations. In some ways I’m reminded of The Wild Things by Dave Eggers, which became the film Where the Wild Things Are (2009), and of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): Portrayals of a child making sense of the trauma, violence, and heartbreak experienced by the adults around them. With cinematography by Zak Mulligan and animations by Mark Samsonovich, We the Animals is beautiful in a visceral way – more guts than heart.
We the Animals is released in the UK on 14th June 2019
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