A powerful, dreamy film with a focus on domestic violence, even if not as severe as other examples, it powerfully demonstrates the effects that volatile parental relationships can have on young children, who in this film are almost being abused by proxy due to witnessing a see-sawing, violent-then-loving couple. No matter how hard they try to hide it, or play it off as ‘no big deal’, kids can often see through such attempts clearly, as is the case here.
Jonah has just turned 10 and is the youngest of three brothers, who begin the film shirtless and extremely skinny, which nails the point down that things are not quite right at home. Their Pop seems to leave without notice and the three brothers are left wondering if he will come back, or even call as their depressed mother can barely get out of bed, let alone answer a phone.
To begin with, the three kids are extremely close and make fun for themselves when their Pop is gone and their mother is in bed. Their bond is strong and unwavering, and after scouring the house for food, the three explore their immediate surroundings and stumble across a house with a garden. They begin picking grapes from the owner’s farm ferociously, but are eventually caught by said owner. Initially angry, he quickly realises that these boys need some food.
It is here that the brothers are introduced to the man’s grandson, who takes pleasure in showing them porn videos, which excite the older bothers but confuse the ten year old Jonah. This confusion manifests itself later in the film in a few scenes that are disturbing to say the least.
As the brothers become older – or more accurately, more mature – Jonah begins to be left out, not wanting to drink or smoke like his older brothers, who are becoming slight versions of their father. This disconnection combined with the erratic behaviour of his parents from the start leads him to create his own world: an extremely accurate statement on children who cannot handle trauma and envelop themselves into their own world that they have control over, removing themselves from the traumatic situation.
We see this manifest in a few sequences that are dreams or his imagination, but for the most part the world he creates is with coloured pencils. The drawings seem innocent enough at first, but gradually become worrying as the film moves forward at a slow but steady pace. In this regard it is perfect, as the sequence of events and Jonah’s reactions to them are extremely believable. His pictures become increasingly dark and are realised in a visually unique and creative way.
The sequences of his drawing of pictures look incredible and add much to the film as they enhance that feeling that he has withdrawn into a world of his own. Sometimes we see him begin to draw a picture only for it to be completed quickly as the process is sped up. More effective though is when these oddly scribbled yet detailed pictures are animated and begin to movie, adding yet more truth about his situation and more importantly, how he feels about his family. How he perceives his life and the world around him.
We The Animals features some of the best child acting in recent memory as both Jonah – unforgettable new-comer Evan Rosado – and both his brothers (Josiah Gabriel and Isaiah Kristian) are incredibly convincing, more so than many adult actors. Rosado as Jonah is what will stick with the viewer though – his face a constant mixture of emotions that is forever hard to figure out, or forget. This is an underappreciated and ‘underground’ gem that burrows to the core of families locked in situations like this. It certainly deserves more recognition as it is a very polished, near flawlessly acted and scripted film that has firm roots in the reality of today as domestic violence becomes increasingly prevalent.
A full sixer, a must-watch film that more people need to see.
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