Jeremiah Zagar directs a moody yet evocative coming of age story titled “We the Animals,” based on the novel by Justin Torres. The film excels in its impressionistic vignettes and animated sequences showing the main character, a young boy, up against supernatural forces he cannot control. The boy, ten year old Jonah (Evan Rosado) resorts to his journal (which he hides under the bed) with the passion of a religion.
With a black crayon, he scratches into the dimpled surface of the paper as if to keep demons at bay. Jonah fashions himself into a kind of Batman / werewolf figure that expels red fire. The paper becomes a living thing.
Jonah lives with his two brothers Manny (Isaiah Kristian) and Joel (Josiah Gabriel). Their mom and dad (Sheila Vand and Raúl Castillo) care for them but their father beats their mother and is prone to anger. At times, he leaves for weeks.
This leaves the kids to fend for themselves at nine and ten years of age. They shoplift from a store and forage farmlands.
All of the children are up against domestic turmoil with a father they can neither predict nor understand. In one impactful scene, dad forcefully sweeps Jonah under a lake to teach him to swim. In another even more unsettling scene, the father said that the dentist knocked out their mother’s wisdom teeth, when in fact, she was punched in the face.
The family has the unnerving existence of not knowing what is going to happen from one moment to the next. The film captures this feeling wonderfully.
Jonah escapes to an old farmhouse and befriends an older boy who likes porn. Their sexual intimacies become somewhat eerie and detached almost like an old Warhol Factory film as the faces are shown in deep closeup. Jonah has recurring sensations of drowning and these sequences are depicted like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, fantastical yet mournful. Sex is silly, scary and unattainable.
Though the theme of family dysfunction reminds one of “The Florida Project,” the emphasis on the covert rituals of writing and drawing at all cost recall the personal stories of Ray Bradbury and Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Again and and again, Jonah is attacked by rages, terrifying and wolf-like. Only the fire-making witchery of writing as drawing and vice-versa can keep these sudden hauntings at bay.
In “We the Animals” the young boy is a medium who passively watches his shapeshifting father, at once a lustful satyr and an impotent hero.
Voyeurism and the imagination reign supreme.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org