By Alexia Evripidou
The excellent Nocturnal Animals is dark, gritty and psychologically violent but also seriously stylish and intense; a modern-day film noir with David Lynch / Stanley Kubrick influences only with a little more gloss and flash. It’s definitely, one of the better and more original high calibre films to come out in a while; a sinister and sickly treat for movie fans that will keep the stomach in knots with foreboding queasiness throughout.
The music is sparse; sounds of silence are broken by heels clicking against stone cold floors and human breathing. The opening montage shows shadows on walls accompanied by slow and serious monologues as femme fatale Susan (Amy Adams), with her flaming red hair combed seductively to one side, speaks. Sadness and mystery penetrate from beyond her eyes as her mouth moves in the scene’s otherwise stillness. She ensnares the audience into her web as the camera cuts into a close-up shot of her heavily kohled black eyes and velvety red lipstick. Who is this woman and what is her story? Already the audience is sucked into the dark and mysterious plot. And so the film continues; all deliciously old school noir-thriller but with modern twists as a story of symbolic revenge unfolds.
Susan is successful but a deeply unhappy modern art gallery owner. Her wealth mainly comes from her current husband Walker (Armie Hammer.) Their relationship is strained and she’s questioning with many regrets the choices she’s made in her life. Out of nowhere and after 20 years of silence, Susan receives the manuscript of an unpublished novel from her first husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal.) Unlike her greaseball second hubbie, Tony is sweet; he’s a sensitive and kind Texan man who was struck with blind love for Susan since youth.
Trying to prove to her cocktail sipping, bitter, aristocratic mother (the talented Laura Linney) that she’s nothing like her, Susan marries Tony against mummy’s wishes in the name of true love. Without two nickels to rub together, Tony chases his writing career dream while Susan inevitable caves to the dollar signs, showing signs of being more like her mother than she cares to admit – “we all become our mothers eventually, it’s a matter of when,” threatens Linney.
So Susan goes to crush Tony twice, firstly by leaving him for smooth talking Walker and secondly by disparaging his writing capabilities. Jump forward to the present Susan worn down by regret, misery, regret…
While Walker is away on business one weekend, Susan tucks into Tony’s book, only to discover the edge between love and malice. Through reading the book, she suspects a deeper message to all this than immediately meets her eye. Has her past finally come back to haunt her? The film (with effortless style,) takes the viewers on an uncomfortable journey balanced between real life and fantasy; revenge slips unforeseen from the past into the present. And as Susan reads further she becomes troubled by what she begins to believe is actually a threat from Tony.
Nocturnal Animals is a stomach clutching film. It’s a double stranded story which does an excellent job of running simultaneously both the fictional plot alongside Susan’s real life narrative. The fictional story is sadistic, sophisticated and full of ugliness… still Nocturnal Animals forces you to take an interest in both narratives. It can get a little confusing but that adds to the darkness and intrigue.
The book is set on the wide open road of American nothingness. It’s a brutal crime thriller about a married man played by Tony (or so Susan imagines) and his red headed wife and daughter, who are terrorised by three men while on a road trip with horrific consequences. It’s psychologically terrifying and excellently acted by all. I was immensely impressed with British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, he was both creepy and naïve. The book’s narratives are fierce and the high adrenalin is intensified with screaming violins interspersed with silence.
The film jumps back and forth with flashbacks and superb editing to link characters’ stories with tension so tight that you could play musical notes on it. The cinematography is gorgeous; natural eerie landscapes contrasted with clever stylised people shots playing with bold colours against stark backdrops and off centre shots to create unease. One can undoubtedly see director/ writer Tom Ford’s previous Fashion Design career influences throughout the film. And the ending is a real treat! Unlike the rest of the movie, it is subtle but with equal power and damage, an over all original and exciting film.
Nocturnal Animals ****
DIRECTED BY Tom Ford
STARRING Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
USA 2016 116 mins