Demonstrates that people can get pretty creative if they’re desperate enough.
Collin Schiffli’s feature debut Animals made its world premiere in the Narrative Feature competition at the SXSW Film Festival last year. This melancholy indie drama features two lovers who are battling heroin addiction without a hint of desirable outcome in sight. With nothing more than desperate determination to do whatever it takes to secure their next fix, it’s hard to classify what the couple do as living–the film exemplifies they’re merely surviving. Animals paints a convincingly bleak picture of the suffering side effects brought on by drug dependence, which is supplemented by a sulky original score from Ian Hultquist (of Passion Pit). Watching people continuously ruin their lives with bad decisions is emotionally exhausting; the fact that they realize it without doing anything is heartbreaking.
There is hardly anything more depressing than watching people struggle to control their own life due to addiction. It is easy to see Jude (David Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw) are at the lowest points of their lives as they look like they haven’t bathed in a long time and they call their broken-down car parked near a Chicago zoo their home. Their end goal is not to save up enough to afford better living conditions, but to obtain just enough money to score their next supply of heroin. And like most who are addicted, they swear each time they use that it will be their last.
Because the young couple hasn’t been working in quite some time, they have mastered con artist techniques in order to swindle people out of money. The film demonstrates that people can get pretty creative if they’re desperate enough. They carry out elaborate scams such as pretending to lose a laptop and offer a large reward to a security guard for it while the other person shows up with a laptop asking to split the reward with the guard (asking for the money upfront). Other tactics are much more simple. For instance, they crash weddings simply to raid presents from the gift table. As soon as money touches their hands it’s immediately used to fulfill their addiction.
It’s not until a life-threatening trip to the hospital that the two finally realize the true gravity of their situation. Most of the time it’s impossible to tell what the couple love more, each other or their drugs. But because they feed off each other’s habits, it tragically becomes a package deal. As heartbreaking as it is, they soon recognize that being isolated from one another might be the easiest path to becoming clean again.
Animals wisely doesn’t ask for pity for these characters. In fact, Jude and Bobbie admit to pissing it down their own legs by being born privileged white middle-class Americans and now doing absolutely nothing worthwhile with their lives. This makes it a little frustrating to watch because of how little the characters seem to actually want to change for the better, despite realizing their problem. Yet pity aside, watching these drug users crawl out of their skins and shower themselves in sweat waiting for their next drug fix is exceptionally depressing to witness.
Aside from a single flashback scene that provides crucial details on how long the couple have been using, and more importantly, what their “dream” was before they were addicted, Animals focuses on the current situation of these two addicts. While this makes it somewhat difficult to sympathize with the characters, solely focusing on the animalistic fortitude of drug addiction certainly reinforces the title of the film. It’s agonizing to witness someone drop drugs on a disgustingly dirty bathroom floor and not think twice about still using it. The fact that these people understand they have a problem (always said to be the most difficult step), yet show no actual motivation to do something about it is frustrating and exhausting. However, that’s precisely what makes these situations so saddening.
Originally published on March 9th, 2014 as part of SXSW coverage.