We the Animals

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Film

A coming-of-age film that seems drawn from personal experience but also, not just remembered, but dreamed, We the Animals evokes the joys and hardships of a working class childhood, a father who is sometimes loving and sometimes abusive and violent, a mom who doesn’t know which way to turn, the push and pull of older siblings, and the confusing first inklings of sexual desire. Reminiscent of Beasts of the Southern Wild and the rapturous cinema of Terrence Malick, but with a particular edge that makes this debut dramatic feature from Jeremiah Zagar very special.

"Justin Torres’ expressively pithy 2011 debut novel, We the Animals, conjured a tough childhood similar to that of the author, about a boy inseparable from his two brothers while their parents fought and reconciled and fought some more as they grappled with a seemingly inescapable reality of blue-collar hopelessness. Informed by a culture of violence and anger, the preteen narrator’s voice shifts fluidly from unflinchingly raw to lyrical and impressionistic, slowly shaping an affecting story of maturation and sexual awakening that concludes with the kind of exposure that will alter the fragile family dynamic forever. It’s a breathlessly personal fever dream of a book, and a tricky proposal for screen adaptation.

In his first narrative feature, documentary maker Jeremiah Zagar (In a Dream, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart) captures the feel of the novel with uncanny precision, notably in the visceral charge and physical heat of tightly wound bodies almost constantly moving in close proximity. His strong casting also is key, including the three natural young nonprofessional actors as the siblings, along with Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and Raul Castillo (Looking) as their parents, identified only as Ma and Paps. We the Animals is a tiny film but mesmerizing in its own loose, dreamy way; it’s also a distinctive take on the discovery of queer identity." David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

"We the Animals is this year’s Moonlight." Eric Kohn, IndieWire

"A complicated coming-of-age tale that not only brings refreshing insights but gives us beautifully rendered images that have the power to haunt you for days." Jordan Ruimy, The Playlist