When we think of science fiction in the movies, what do our minds conjure up? Is it centered on experiencing cutting-edge technology that pushes the boundaries of what is feasible in our everyday lives? Or maybe it’s about extraterrestrials who land on our world, conquer it, and use it as a stepping stone to colonize other planets. Of course, these can be amusing in their unique ways, but there is something else to the genre as a whole that can be very subdued but still mesmerizing to look at.
This is brought to the forefront in Sofia Alaoui’s first feature film, Animalia, which she both wrote and directed. It takes the mundane patterns of existence and infuses them with a more surreal chain of occurrences as unknown forces begin to distort the world as we know it to be. However, this movie is less concerned with explaining these occurrences in complete detail and more about embracing the unsettling nature of those occurrences.
Consequently, it is a piece of art that contrasts the ordinary with the extraordinary and leaves a lingering impression on account of the fluidity with which it was written. Even though its characters might not be as complicated as one could expect in a novel like this, the feeling of letting it all wash over you turns out to be a wondrous one.
Itto is completely oblivious to the fact that her life, and even her very existence, is on the verge of being irrevocably altered. She is quite pregnant and spends most of her days in the luxury of the Moroccan upper class, and Oumama Barid, who plays her, is a very dynamic actress. Itto had a more modest upbringing than most people, but her life with her wealthy husband Amine (played by Mehdi Dehbi) is characterized by how far removed it is from all of this.
Even though her often critical mother-in-law expects much from her while caring nothing for her feelings, the expectant mother can nevertheless exercise sufficient self-control to remain behind at the big home alone. But, at the same time, they go off to do something else. Itto is then caught up in the epicenter of a mysterious occurrence that begins to affect the weather, the animals, and the fabric of her reality.
The timing of this event proves to be unlucky for Itto because of the future events that follow. Even though there has been a state of emergency declared, the military has been seen driving by the house, and people have started to leave the area, she still does not understand what is happening.
She is still cut off from Amine, who appears to have found refuge elsewhere, and as a result, there is a growing sense that it may not be safe to continue in this location. As a result, Itto embarks on a journey to locate him by investigating something that is both more personal and more ethereal simultaneously.
To discuss anything further than part of this first introduction would be to do a disservice to the voyage that Alaoui leads us on, which is a captivating one that is difficult to pin down fully and is all the more enjoyable for it. As Itto moves from one location to another, it becomes increasingly difficult to find answers, and there is a growing sense that she is utterly alone.
Even when she comes into contact with regular people she believes it may be able to assist her, how she treats them betrays the distance developed between her and others due to her newly acquired access to wealth. This humorous remark on the classroom is connected to how Itto has changed and the things that she no longer understands about components of day-to-day life are currently being turned upside down in front of her very eyes.
It is all approached with the same level of honesty as the vast majority of the other things that are taking place around her. Yet, the upheavals in her otherwise solitary existence ultimately become more transformational. When we observe gangs of dogs beginning to berserk in the streets or a passenger picked up on the side of the road delivering some unnerving proclamations, it can be slightly menacing in a way that is not immediately obvious. Yet, even when all of this is taking place, a strange sense of release comes along with the experience.
This results in a succession of memorable sequences that are both mesmerizing and horrifying as Itto and the other travelers become engulfed in something bigger than themselves. The first occurs when they are enveloped in a tremendous storm, when everything appears to be on the verge of dissolving. The effect that Alaoui creates could be described as an out-of-body experience; however, this description only seems to scratch the surface of the encounter.
It puts everything into perspective, demonstrating that even a single tear can evaporate into the air and become a part of the larger universe. But, unfortunately, there is no explanation that can be given that is clear and concise for either this phenomenon or what comes next. On the contrary, do you not think this is how we may feel if we stumble upon such an event for ourselves?
Even while science fiction movies frequently can convert the incomprehensible into something more understandable, there is still something incredibly liberating about not being constrained by the need to dumb things down in any way. Instead, as this all-encompassing event consumes Itto, we are as well, and we do so right along with her. It sharpens the subtle elements of the world as she had previously known it in beautifully captured moments that leave us in wonder and put everything into perspective simultaneously.
Unfortunately, there are times throughout the movie when it deviates from this more captivating approach, and those times simply make you wish there was more of it. While it is possible that much of this was done on purpose to reflect how Itto’s life has been irrevocably altered due to what she has encountered, she cannot go back; there is also less to cling to in other areas.
The character development isn’t as in-depth, and the resolution of one specific plot thread leaves a bad taste in the mouth since it feels unfinished. At the same time, we’re being swept back into the mundane, which is always tinged with the supernatural. The unshakeable conviction that something is still terribly wrong and that humankind’s existence may never be the same again binds everything together.
This takes on new significance for Itto as she is overcome by what was shown when her world felt like it had shrunk to an unbearably small size. The experience of gazing separates this movie from others, even though neither she nor we will obtain many answers along its course. Animalia can tap into something remarkable and enigmatic because of its willingness to peek directly through the looking glass. This is something that most other works of science fiction would shy away from doing in the face of Animalia.