Animal Kingdom is a strange but arresting film. In ponders along for the most part at a sedate pace, punctuated with flashes of intense violence as the story meanders through suburban Melborne with no apparent destination. On the surface it’s banal at best, but it slowly gets under your skin, forcing you to look, keeping you focussed on it in that same voyeuristic way that we all slow down and glance when we pass by a nasty accident.
It may sound gruesome, and at times Animal Kingdom will make your skin crawl, but first-time director and screenwriter David Michod has crafted a devilishly dark tale about crime and family loyalty, where evil simmers barely below the surface, ready to explode in a tale that is schizophrenic in the way it flicks willingly between moments of ramped up tension and those long moments where you are waiting for something to happen and you end up watching the clock.
At the beginning of the film we see a teenager watching Deal or no Deal on TV whilst his mother appears to be sleeping on the couch, right beside him. But we soon discover that she’s not sleeping as the boy lets in the paramedics but keeps watching the television. It’s in these opening moments that we relaise that this is going to be a messed up film, but we just don’t know how messed up as the boy decides to move in with his Grandmother and her three criminal sons.
Animal Kingdom shows us very clearly how dark and deep a hole that is a combination of remorseless crime and family loyalty can be, and how difficult it is to emerge from the hole unscathed once you’ve been led into it. It illustrated with poignant clarity where crime ultimately leads and is devoid for the most part of any form of hope or sight of redemption.
As the story progresses you desperately hold on to the hope that the teenage boy will somehow escape this hell that he has allowed himself to be drawn into, whilst at the same time slowly realising that hope is not a commodity that a family empire built on crime subscribes to.
By the time the film finishes any notions of right and wrong, good and evil that you may have had at the beginning of this warped tale have long since flown the coop and you’re left with the disturbing realisation that not everything in life fits into those neatly ordered boxes that make up your world.
Reviewed by: Jonathan