WE THE ANIMALS, DIR BY JEREMIAH ZAGAR
BY SARA DARLING
A beautiful real life story of a young boy discovering manhood based on the autobiographical book by Justin Torres.
Set in the flatlands of remote, upstate New York, there are few other characters involved in this movie, which revolves around a family consisting of Puerto Ricon ‘Paps’ (played by Freddie Mercury- moustached Raúl Castillo), American-Italian ‘Ma’ (Sheila Vand) a feisty teenage mum who had her kids by the time she was twenty, and three siblings, ranging between 9 and 14- Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel) and Jonah (Evan Rosado).
Taking place through an undetermined time period in the nineties, the family seems to be happy, making do with their hand to mouth existence in their run down house, teasing each other, but ultimately a solid unit. However, there is friction within the monotony with their parents, who constantly wind each other up. The boys, sleeping like feral wolves, in the same room, are well aware when their alpha male father beats their mother up after they have gone to bed.
After a particularly harrowing incident when Paps, tries to teach the youngest son, Jonah to swim, and he nearly downs, the air is heavy with blame. Sent off to bed, the boys expect a big row, and the inevitable fight leads to Ma getting a smashed up face. Paps knows is one step too far, and he grabs his bag and leaves, telling the boys that their mother had teeth removed at the dentist and they should stay quiet around her.
From the outset, the main focus is Jonah, who as the youngest is his Ma’s little treasure. However, with two older brothers and an unpredictable Paps, he has conflicting views on what is right and wrong; The violence, followed by consequent passion and tenderness is a cycle which is hard for anyone to get to grips with, and puts pressure on his relationship with his mother as he tries to work things out for himself.
In order for Jonah to try to understand his feelings, he crawls under the bed with a flashlight every night to scribble in a notebook, frantically creating illustrations which come to life as realistic animations. Depicting violence, sex and his family, this is a clever way for the viewer to bond with him, as however close he is to his brothers, he is perceived as more delicate and sensitive; Adamant to keep his journal secret, he stashes it carefully under the mattress so no one can see his true feelings, and sexual thoughts.
Being the youngest of three brothers, and having a mother who is suffering from depression, and a father he is not sure he should like, makes Jonah grow up fairly quickly; So when he accidentally meets the stoner grandson of his neighbour (after attempting to steal from his vegetable garden) he finds a comrade. This teenager, from Philly, who is nice to him, represents normality. Even though his life involves around watching Iron Maiden videos, porn and smoking weed, he provides an alternative reality to what Jonah knows, and is a beacon of hope.
With confusing guidelines (his parents have yet another passionate reunion) and his brothers seem to be developing way too quickly and growing into versions of their father, Jonah feels even more of a misfit. And after being bullied by his siblings, he acts on impulse and takes refuge in his neighbour’s basement, where his desire takes over and they kiss.
However happy his first kiss should make him, his life implodes when he gets home, where he finds his bed ransacked and his diary has been read. With his deepest secrets exposed, and the whole family waiting for an explanation, this ten year old boy has a decision to make.
A totally mesmerising story, which will touch and infuriate you, and make you wonder what you would do in the same situation.
By Eureka Films! On general release now.
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