Opening this weekend at Harkins Camelview:
We the Animals—The title refers to Manny, Joel and Jonah, biracial pre-adolescent brothers growing up in upstate New York in the 1980s. They are, indeed, a little on the rambunctious side, racing around headlong and engaging inincantatory chants like kids from a contemporary Lord of the Flies.
They aren’t feral, however. Their Puerto Rican dad (Raul Castillo) is a night watchman, and their Anglo Mom (Shela Vand) works in a bottling plant. Much of the movie consists of the three beautiful boys standing there wide-eyed, taking in the spectacle of their young parents’ unstable marriage – moments of genuine affection, playfulness and passion broken up with arguments and abuse. It’s clear the boys are absorbing it all, and that the mixture of love and explosive anger washing over them is a dangerous recipe for their adulthoods.
This adaptation of the 2011 novel by Justin Torres is directed by Jeremiah Zagar, working in a fractured, naturalistic narrative style. The point of view, most of the time, is of Jonah (Evan Rosado), the youngest of the brothers, a sensitive sort who secretly writes journals and draws expressive doodles, periodically brought to life here through Mark Samsonovitch’s striking animation. Along with the familial drama, we also get a glimpse of the beginnings of Jonah’s coming-of-age saga.
Without a trace of luridness, We the Animals manages to be heartbreaking and harrowing. What saves it from being depressing is the exhilaration of Zagar’s direction, and the unbridled energy and unstudied authenticity of the cast. They make every bad decision and violent impulse coherent and convincing – and every moment of tenderness, too.
Opening widely this weekend:
The Nun—In 1952, a ruggedly handsome priest (Demian Bichir) and an innocent young novitiate (Taissa Farmiga) are sent by the Vatican to investigate the case of a nun who has hanged herself at a remote cloister in Romania. When they get there, with the help of a French-Canadian guide (Jonas Bloquet), they find the place haunted by the specter of a fanged, pasty-skinned demonic nun. Soon ravens are screeching, crosses are inverting and combusting on the walls, clawed demonic fingers are clutching from the shadows, catacombs are plumbed, prayers are murmured in Latin and relics are deployed.
This shocker is linked, by a brief prologue and epilogue, to the Conjuring movies, but is otherwise a freestanding story. It’s so full of nightmarish visions and illusions that it’s not always clear what’s meant to be “real” and what isn’t. It’s also probably too literal-minded to evoke any deep Catholic dread, for either the observant or the resentfully lapsed. That may be for the best – the audience keeps giggling happily between the screams.
That’s the pleasant surprise about this very silly movie: how old-school hokey those chills are. The scare scenes and even the style of the acting wouldn’t seem at all out of place in a Mario Bava Italian horror picture of the ’60s, or even, really, of a Universal classic of the ’30s. There’s a spitting, superstitious innkeeper who would have been right at home at the beginning of 1931’s Dracula.
Bichir, a veteran of Mexican movies and TV, has an impressive movie-star presence as the padre, and Farmiga (Vera’s younger sister), who starred in the sweet, neglected horror satire The Final Girls, is touchingly guileless and plucky as the novice; you almost expect her to beak into “My Favorite Things.” Both deserve credit for keeping straight faces when, after the snarling, malevolent nun tries to, say, bury the priest alive, or scratch a pentagram in the novice’s shoulder, they then have to make solemn remarks like “There is a powerful evil here” or “This ground is no longer sacred.” Ya think?