When you sit back and think about it, what are human beings but a bunch of sophisticated animals? Yeah sure, we give ourselves laws, create beautiful art, develop science that does important things like provide ugly face Snapchat filters or allow access to videos of cats jumping into boxes. But take out all the “higher thinking” and pretend morals, and we’re just a bunch of animals working off of primal instincts, the two most basic being sex and survival. Animalistic looks to explore the darkest perversions of those needs.
Directed by Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund (Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich) and written by Laguna & David Liljeblad (Whither), Animalistic tells the story of Emma (Hanna Oldenburg), a woman who is kidnapped by a trio of killers/rapists, who must then fight to survive at any cost.
Oldenburg brings a quiet intensity that works brilliantly with her character, Emma. And that’s good too because Animalistic barely tries to make her seem like anything but a very aggressive piece of furniture. Emma doesn’t have much character outside the usual pleading victim that we see in these types of films. We learn that Emma is a businesswoman who has come to America from Australia to sign a controversial oil contract, but the film never really comes back to this in any sort of significant way, even though there is some kind of vague hint that Emma isn’t proud of any of this in the beginning. Luckily for the filmmakers, Oldenburg is a straight up savage, able to express a complex mix of rage and fear in her eyes alone, all of it leading to an eventual transformation that blew me away in terms of how Oldenburg captures the essence of steep mental decline.
Our lead psycho, Jim (Ralh Beck), really steals the show as a perverse maniac with a complicated soul. Sadistic and driven by hate, Jim is like the Sawyer family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre all wrapped into one violent package. He’s murderous, mad, and malicious, not to mention he looks like he could REALLY use a shower, but there’s also a part of him that is sad. A part that hates himself and what he is, even though he struggles to admit it. This is where Animalistic becomes interesting, but also misguided. Interesting in that most rapesploitation films don’t bother to give much personality to the rapists. And I’m not saying Jim is the kind of guy you’re going to cry for, but there is something about him that feels relatable, as awful as he is. That’s not the route I would want to go though, because by putting emphasis on Jim and his “feelings”, while ignoring developing Emma to any degree, it seems as if the filmmakers miss the point in making this kind of film, as is often the case with rape-revenge movies. By asking the audience to feel for Jim, and at the same time giving them barely a smidge of relation to Emma, it’s as if Animalistic is perpetuating the viewpoint of the killers, that Emma is an object and they are more “human” than her. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather feel bad for Emma, and not the piece of shit that’s raping her. Films like the recently released Revenge proved that women filmmakers have a better understanding of the rape-revenge themes, and Animalistic is just further proof of that.
If you’re getting the sense that Animalistic is the type of film that makes you feel unclean, you don’t know the half of it. There isn’t enough soap that money can buy to make me feel like I’ve successfully scrubbed the dirt off my skin after seeing this film. Laguna & Wiklund are masters at taking the disgusting themes of Animalistic and smooshing them on-screen into practically every frame. Every single shot that revolves around Emma in her captor’s house of horror feels dirty and wretched with a soft, brownish/yellow lighting that creeps into your eyes like a disease. Not to mention, Jim, Emma, and Jim’s dimwitted accomplice, Pete (Torbjorn Andersson), all look like they’re covered in about six layers of grime and depravity. You can practically smell the unwashed bodies, the filmmakers do such a great job of propelling the audience into scenes straight out of 70's exploitation films. In that, Laguna & Wiklund deserve a slimy pat on the back.
The terror felt in Animalistic is just as degenerate and nauseating as the look of the film. When Emma is first kidnapped, she is confronted with the last girl captured by Jim and his cohorts, Marie (Johanna Wagrell). Seeing her as a representation of what will most likely happen to Emma is utterly nightmarish. It’s one thing to think you’re going to die, but to look into a metaphorical mirror depicting exactly what’s going to happen to you, well, its sadism enacted in its finest form. But again, Animalistic takes one step forward and two big steps back because most of the terror revolves around Emma being raped, repeatedly. Which is a shame, because the filmmakers clearly know how to create genuine horror, so it’s disappointing that they so often go for the low hanging fruit of shock for shock’s sake. I’ve never been a fan of the rape horror genre for this reason, because it just so often feels like a cheap and unnecessary way to make the audience uncomfortable, and Animalistic is about as tasteless with it as it gets.
Like the infamous rape-revenge films that have come before it, such as Last House on the Left, Animalistic manages to be more than just another turd rotting in a sewer full of films like it by employing some incredibly satisfying kills and FX that make sitting through the previous sixty minutes a little more worthwhile. Rape-revenge films live and die on the whole “revenge” part, and Animalistic lives up to its title with the rebirth of Emma through a trial of rage and frenzied gore. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and furious is a fitting way to describe the outrageous finale.
Granted, none of this makes up for a film which replaces any semblance of story with rape and abuse for second-rate shocks. If you typically enjoy these types of movies, then it’s my guess you won’t be disappointed by Animalistic, which is well shot and has a deeply satisfying ending, with all the gore and mayhem viewers expect in a 70's style rapesploitation film. But, with a complete lack of character and a collection of the same old debauchery we’ve seen countless times before, there’s not much here to set Animalistic apart from the trashy films that have preceded it.