Spoiler-Free Film Review: “The Animal Kingdom” 

The Animal Kingdom movie

March 18, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Director Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom (Le régne animal; France and Belgium, 2023) tackles the well-tread science fiction concept of “Can mutants and humans get along?” previously explored in X-Men comics and movies, and films such as 2018’s Freaks. Although not a lot of new ground is covered storywise, Cailley’s feature is such a well-acted and beautifully realized work that it stands out of the pack. 

Francois’ (Romain Duris) wife Lana (Florence Deretz) has taken on animalistic tendencies, both in action and physically. She is one of many people who have suddenly become stricken and hospitalized with this disease. With many people turning against those afflicted, the government has opened a new facility for patients like Lana. When the bus that takes her and other mutating patients to the facility crashes and the patients escape to the nearby forest, tensions rise further. Francois has moved near the facility with his teenage son Émile (Paul Kircher), who is hiding his own new signs that he, too, is mutating.

The Animal Kingdom, cowritten by Cailley and Pauline Munier, focuses on the family drama surrounding Francois and Émile as they try to come to terms with their mother’s changes, and Émile’s awkward relationship between himself and a mutant bird boy — as well as the budding romance between Émile and a girl who works at the same dining establishment as Francois. The focus is more on emotion than science fiction action or horror, though some well-realized special effects and highly impressive creature design are on display. 

The main draw with The Animal Kingdom is the display of excellent performances by the cast, led by Duris and Kircher but boasting terrific supporting performances, as well, including Adèle Exarchopoulos as Julia Izquierdo, a local police officer who helps Francois. Cinematographer David Cailley captures the proceedings splendidly.

Viewers of mutant-themed science fiction will be quite familiar with the plot points and themes — such as people’s fear of The Other — of The Animal Kingdom, but  Thomas Cailley’s wondrous work is a visual feast boasting fine acting, and comes highly recommended.

The Animal Kingdom, from Magnet Releasing, was released in theaters and on VOD on March 15th, 2024.

Photos courtesy of Magnet Releasing.



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