Much like the tide of an ocean, director Jeremiah Zagar‘s We The Animals pulls, pushes and plays with his viewer’s feelings through the characters, cinematography, lighting, and language. This water motif is mimicked throughout the rest of the production. The film explores a simple tale of three brothers growing up in a home led by fickle, variable parents. But it is the way this simple story is told which makes it so alluring and easy to swallow.
The push and pull notion nods to both the expectant childish behaviour in the three young boys but also, in their volatile yet despondent parents. ‘Paps’ (Raúl Castillo) and ‘Ma’ (Sheila Vand) are lost; fumbling their way through life and their relationship. They are uncertain, giving no substantial support to their children. When left alone though, the boys can fend, feed, and learn themselves – savaging and befriending when needed.
Zagar teases us frequently with hope and love before slapping us hard with distress and anguish; hugging you with care before squeezing you empty. The love and lust between the parents is quickly followed by brutality and harm. The children even indulge their parents, dutifully, whilst they play out intimate, physical relations. Though this is perhaps done in the hope that this fondness is lasting and will not be followed by violence. This to and fro movement is seen again when Paps fondly teaches his youngest and Ma, how to swim. His protective persona abruptly disappears when he leaves them struggling, submerged in the centre of a deep, vast river. These boys live on an unnerving, dangerous path.
Yet the possibility of a different, better life happens to occasionally glow on screen. Ma escapes from fractious Paps with her three musketeers one evening, and indulges them in somewhere “better”, and more fitting like “Spain”. But akin to the rest of the film, this is life is taken from the boys after she asks them to “make the decision” for her, bringing us straight back to their rocky household and father. A sense of hopelessness is felt here, her immaturity, like her partners, is rife and frustrating and we long for justice for the unknowing boys. The youngest, Jonah (played by Evan Rosado) seems different though and escapes from this world through his striking, fierce sketches.
The cinematic and aural choices made in the film are bold and uncomplicated. Intimate, pungent, rouge tones hit our eyes over the 90 minute play out. Squashed tomatoes, bed pillows, blood, sketches and soup, as if to say that the heated, passionate ways of their parents and their lives is the only thing the threesome can depend on. Similarly, the straightforward, monotonous tapping fingertip from Jonah on his drawing pad utters the rhythms of his fathers belts and beatings. This is heard at the outset and end of them – maybe to show the painful, yet unavoidable journey he will make to becoming his father.
Challenges appear so rife and intense in their world. The story closes so tightly onto this group of relations, that the real world seems scarce and far away. It is only with the shots with external characters, on motorways and in shops that we are reminded that a different life is possible.
As an audience, we feel like Jonah, like an outsider looking into a different world, life and experience. As viewers, we are granted an insight into this family and its happenings. Everything unfolds in front of us and although we can anticipate the ending, we are invested in the characters journeys’, particularly the youngest of the troop, Jonah. Jeremiah Zagar (in a script written with Dan Kitrosser based on the Justin Torres novel) gives real space for this story – it’s raw but undoubtedly a real one.