Father and son are stuck in traffic. They argue while exhaust fumes, horns and engine rumble back up in the inner-city flow of metal. Then a phoenix rises from the fine dust. An ambulance breaks in intimidating, inhuman screaming creature into the open. Half human, half bird, it takes to the skies like Angel in the X-Men movie that we’ll never talk about again, please. It’s the first sign that something is terribly wrong in Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom, an imaginative sci-fi film set for the pandemic and climate crisis era.
In The Animal Kingdom, a disease turns people into monsters
Hair on the back, unusually strong hearing and a lust for blood: These are a selection of the symptoms that sufferers face in The Animal Kingdom. A disease is about where it comes from, which interests the film far less than its horror transformation from the human to the animal body.
Émile’s (Paul Kircher) mother got it, she is one of the “critters” (English: critters), as the sick are called pejoratively. The state is holding them behind high walls at a collection point in southern France. When an accident causes some to flee into the woods, Émile and his father François (Romain Duris from Final Cut of the Dead) set out in search of their beloved mother and wife. The boy will soon show symptoms…
Sci-Fi with a coming-of-age twist and impressive effects
In their screenplay, Thomas Cailley and Pauline Munier mix elements of the coming-of-age film with a parable about nature’s resistance to the destructive forces of man. This creates a Science fiction adventure with a fairy tale twist.
Gorgeous creature effects (part practical, part CGI) conjure up human walruses, a majestic bipedal bird (Tom Mercier from Berlinale-winning Synonymes), baby octopus and pangolins who peer curiously out of dark forests or under supermarket counters in… peer into the human world. But the latter is also worth seeing, especially Paul Kircher, who plays with impressive control the loss of control of a teenager who has to learn to understand his body and mind anew.
The Animal Kingdom is packed with wit (sometimes a bit too much of it) and fuels its best moments with a love of exploring this new world. Cailley shows no interest in timid art-house minimalism. When a man with gigantic wings is in the script, he follows him from the forest floor to the blue of the southern French sky.
The sequence, which is already one of the highlights of the Cannes Film Festival: A hunt through a nocturnal corn field, somewhere between Predators and The Lost World – Jurassic Park. Hunters follow their “game” on stilts, which are looking for cover between the plants. The men appear more inhuman than the grotesque beings they despise. But, to quote the wise Qui-Gonn Jinn, there’s always a bigger fish.
The Animal Kingdom has not yet been released in German cinemas.
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