by Jason Suzuki
NOTE: This was a self-made double feature. The Stanley Film Festival did not show these in a double bill. I just saw one right after the other and found some connections.
How do two women who’ve been raised in closed off environments deal with a desire to explore the world as other internal changes happen simultaneously? Sun Choke‘s Janie (Sarah Hagan) is recovering from a psychotic break, kept inside by her lifelong caretaker Irma (Barbara Crampton), having to undergo a holistic regime of exercises. When Animals Dream’s budding female spirit is Marie (Sonia Suhl), a teenage girl who finds out that she is like her mother, becoming a werewolf, something the rest of the community wants to keep her unaware and sedated from. Both films are stories of girls who know there’s something more to the world than what they’ve been force fed and the all the consequences that ensue when they try to venture off on their own.
The obvious comparison that one can draw from Sun Choke, and one that Sarah Hagan confirms was required viewing for the film, is Dogtooth. It’s more of a surface comparison as both films deal with the disturbing outcomes of grown children who’ve been kept inside with little interaction and a controlled upbringing on how the world works. But unlike Dogtooth, which seems to have stemmed from the political/economic situation of Greece, Sun Choke is a more character driven examination of the situation. Despite its ambiguities we are allowed insights into Janie, regardless if certain scenes we see are flashbacks or false memories/fantasies created by her, the point is we are allowed to see them. The film is just as close as it may seem to be distant from its characters.
When Animals Dream may not have the ambiguities of Sun Choke but it shares the film’s intimacy and fascination with the body. Marie’s fascination comes from the changes to her own and what the townsfolk tries to hide from her about her own mother. The use of werewolf can be seen as allegory for coming of age as well as coming of age specific to the female. It’s great that the majority of the film is really about her becoming an adult, and the majority of the horror elements come at the climax. It’s a moody genre blend worth experiencing.
Both films are serviced by a big screen, the sensory information (of course sight and sound but more importanly touch) is at its most effective when it’s on the big screen where can be fully immersed in the characters. This pair of debuts make for a sensory driven character study double bill.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.