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Fascinating “The Animal Kingdom” Proves Moving

Written by: Adam Vaughn | March 14th, 2024

The Animal Kingdom (Thomas Cailley, 2023) 3½ out of 5 stars

Right on the cusp of spring, director Thomas Cailley delivers a bizarre concept: a world where humans, seemingly selected at random, slowly turn into various types of animals. Humanity lives in a world where the normalization of such humans into “creatures”—half human, half animal— permeates society. They are not only cast out by the government, but hunted and captured (or destroyed). Cailley’s film not only depicts a wild motif, but does so with a sense of compassion that, while predictable, sends a very strong message relevant to today’s polarized universe.

The Animal Kingdom follows young Émile Marindaze (Paul Kircher, Winter Boy) and his father, François (Romain Duris, Final Cut), whose mother and wife, Lana (Florence Deretz), is one of the many that have mysteriously (and unexplainably) transformed from human to creature. When Lana escapes a crashed transportation van, Émile and François disobey local laws, enforced by Sergeant Julia Izquierdo (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Back Home), and go out into the woods to look for her. But as they search, Émile reaches a terrifying conclusion: his mother’s genes have been passed onto him, and he is soon to turn into one of the outcasts. Dodging his father’s prejudiced take on creatures, Émile soon realizes that these beings, while strange and aggressively protective, are not so different from humans, and only want to live in peace.

l-r: Romain Duris and Paul Kircher in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Cailley (Love at First Fight) has an immensely strong message about those who don’t conform to so-called normality, the abuse of nature, and what it means to truly be free. The effects used to create the remarkable creatures hold fast throughout the runtime, and the cinematography suggests a lot of bystander-esque compositions that enhance the experience of witnessing such striking human-animal beasts roaming the urban streets. Kircher gives a pleasant performance as a misfit high-schooler faced with unimaginable physical changes, and an ensemble of committed performances by the creature actors helps sell the believability further.

While, visually and thematically, the film captivates, Cailley takes a considerable amount of expository time to get us to the film’s more frenetic moments. Meanwhile, the writing proves more conventional, with conversational scenes breaking up more subtle creature moments. If one is able to push through the film’s exposition, one finds a more high-stakes, intense second act, but even this better pacing comes to a less than desirable finale. The abrupt ending seems uninspired, pushing a positive outcome that leaves the viewer asking for at least one more scene.

Adèle Exarchopoulos in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

While The Animal Kingdom struggles with its narrative techniques, it is still a vivid and engrossing story, reflecting many of the present’s topics and phobias. In an era pushing acceptance of various peoples, the sympathetic tone of this film does that notion great justice, and the aesthetic appeal behind such beastly creatures both terrifies and awes. Cailley may not always hit the notes in his scriptwriting, but what he does do is paint a vivid picture of a world where one day we may all return to the woods as the animals we were meant to be.


Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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