Human predatory behaviors all around the world have set us on an unstoppable road of planetary devastation, to the point that we are afraid of when and how nature may strike back. The Animal Kingdom (Le règne animal), directed by Thomas Cailley, who co-wrote the story with Pauline Munier, examines these fears by portraying a near future in which people gradually transform into animals. It’s an engrossing premise bolstered by excellent practical effects and passionate performances.
The Animal Kingdom is set in the not-too-distant future after a mystery sickness causes unexpected mutations in the human body. Without notice, infected humans begin to turn into animals and go savage. Each individual transforms into a different animal, and with no clear explanation for what causes the mutations, there is widespread concern that your loved ones may change into creatures. Furthermore, because the number of cases is increasing dramatically, government authorities are rushing to find methods to limit the disease and care for the patients. In France, for example, massive concrete complexes were created to confine the Creatures while physicians sought treatment.
While The Animal Kingdom is built on a complicated sci-fi idea, the film wisely prioritizes character above worldbuilding. That’s why, rather than spending too much time explaining the mutation laws, the film drops us right into the center of a convoluted family drama that supports the sci-fi plot. While The Animal Kingdom has a fantastic range of characters, we largely follow François (Roman Duris) and Émile (Paul Kircher), a father and son who are forced to flee their home owing to the epidemic. François’ wife has turned into a Creature, and once she’s been transported to a complex in the south of France, the family relocates to be closer to her in the hopes of eventually curing her and reuniting with her. Unfortunately, after an accident unleashes scores of Creatures into the wild, including François’ wife, mayhem will soon infiltrate their lives. To complicate matters even further, Émile begins to transform, which he tries to conceal from others.
Because humans and their connections are central to The Animal Kingdom, Cailley can keep the stakes high throughout the film. As a result, the film can flirt with sci-fi notions while still exploring human topics such as generational tensions between dads and sons. Furthermore, the sickness that drives the story of The Animal Kingdom allows the film to address environmental issues such as speciesism and climate change while also delving into themes of prejudice and social panic.
It’s always a plus when a film does an excellent job of presenting intriguing concepts that will keep the audience involved in the conversation long after the credits have rolled. However, The Animal Kingdom’s success is due to its outstanding performances. Kircher is undeniably the king of the jungle, wonderfully expressing the intricacies of an adolescent grappling with unexpected changes in his body while feeling compelled to take a stand in a world that appears to favor violence over cohabitation. Émile’s trip represents the issues that The Animal Kingdom as a whole is facing since people can no longer deny the presence of Creatures everywhere. This voyage, however, is far more personal for the lad, which is exacerbated by the fact that Émile is a child attempting to fit in at a new school while simultaneously learning the sorrows of love. It’s a difficult position, but Kircher pulls it off like few others, keeping The Animal Kingdom afloat even when pacing concerns threaten to ruin the plot.
While The Animal Kingdom delivers an engrossing narrative about acceptance and respect for the natural world, it occasionally falls under the weight of its ambition, attempting to achieve too much in a single film. The Animal Kingdom suffers from tonal dissonance at points because the writing is stretched in every imaginable way. For example, the plot is frequently portrayed as a family-friendly magical journey, with uplifting music and the purpose of concluding with a good message. Nonetheless, The Animal Kingdom attempts to lean into the bodily horror resulting from the mutation, with a number of stomach-turning moments that are fantastic in their own right but feel out of place in the context of the film.
The Animal Kingdom’s large storyline also causes some apparent problems when it comes to constructing a satisfactory finale. It’s no surprise that there are four distinct endings in a row, which might make the last stretch of The Animal Kingdom feel tedious. Despite the fact that everything on screen is asking us to prepare to say goodbye, the film continues. While the universe of The Animal Kingdom is captivating, Cailley and Munier’s script might have been reduced and the final act condensed so that the loose strands fit together more elegantly. It’s easy to see where the confusion comes from since The Animal Kingdom juggles too many subplots at once. Still, the film may have had a greater lasting impression if it had a more polished ending. While The Animal Kingdom is far from flawless, it does present a crowd-pleasing narrative that can both move and excite.