“Animal Kingdom” is an extremely difficult film to watch, primarily because it grabs a hold of you and then tightens its grip with each passing moment.
The experience is certainly far from forgettable as “Animal Kingdom” leaves the moviegoer with an intensely unsettling feeling. Although it takes some time for the film’s tension to build, it eventually reaches a point that is simply agonizing. This is an astoundingly white-knucked feature film from Australian director David Michod.
“Animal Kingdom” opens with a young man named Josh (James Frecheville) watching with detachment as paramedics fail to revive his mother from a drug overdose. With nowhere else to turn, Darren is forced to move in with his criminal relatives, including grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver).
Before long, Josh comes face-to-face with his uncle Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), an armed-robber who is on the run from a gang of renegade detectives who want him dead. The family agrees to help hide Pope but their collaboration is suspected by the authorities who then take drastic measures to send Pope a message.
Pope then takes his own drastic measures to retaliate, forcing his younger brother Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and his best friend Darren (Luke Ford) to assist in the murder of two police officers. Naive Darren is sucked into the plan, as well, finding himself placed in danger by the only family he has ever known.
Michod expertly navigates the delicate balance between good and evil. The line between the two is uncomfortably blurry in “Animal Kingdom.” Guy Pierce has a supporting role as a detective who promises to protect Josh, but is fairly naive himself. Threats come from every direction and Josh is the only character who has a semi-functional moral-compass.
Yet, that ominousness is what gives “Animal Kingdom” its power. Each haunting revelation rattles the audience beyond belief and, as the plot progresses, the ever-increasing suspense makes the moviegoer easily startled. By the time the end-credits roll, your senses will have come completely unhinged.
Weaver has received plenty of praise for her role as the reprehensible grandmother but Mendelsohn is the actor in “Animal Kingdom” who delivers the most authentically chilling performance. With each anesthetized facial expression and line of dialogue, Mendelsohn shows that his character is a man of many nightmares.
“Animal Kingdom” does take a little while to engage its audience, though. Like Josh, we are dropped in the middle of an already partially evolved situation. Therefore, it is easy to initially be insecure about wrapping ourselves up in the story. However, again like Josh, we are eventually drawn deep into it.
And, as hard as we may try to pull away from it in order to preserve our own safety, “Animal Kingdom” constricts its claws until it is through showing us who is king.
“Animal Kingdom” (R – 112 minutes) is now playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. Visit NCM.com for specific showtimes.