☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
In a hidden compartment somewhere inside Experimental Film Society headquarters, there has to be a bottomless box which holds altered reality in distilled form and is opened whenever an EFS member is about to craft a feature film, because at the present moment, I can not think of a better explanation for the unique viewing experience provided by Dean Kavanagh's Animal Kingdom.
Or maybe I can? Imagine entering a thick forest, completely unaware of its vastness, the 'dangers' (or rather mysteries) lurking behind the trees and under the rocks, as well as the whereabouts of its other end (if there was one to begin with). Now, cast a long glance to the starless sky and just ignore the fact that you are about to get lost - you have already been lost for a very long time. Close your eyes and dream about falling through the abyss, as the invisible light fills your pores...
And if this does not work (after all, I'm not a trained hypnotherapist), you will just have to wait for the opportunity to see this genre-defying experiment yourself. Opening with a 30-second long pitch-black shot accompanied by the calming birds' chirping and crickets' clittering (soon to be interrupted by the rumble of distant thunder), Animal Kingdom pulls you, together with the unnamed protagonist (played with stoic intensity by Cillian Roche), into the volatile, ever-reinventing world replete with references to the history of cinema. Our 'hero' (an invader? a detective? a director's alter ego?) will attempt to transform it, only to eventually end up being transmuted himself by the unyielding indigenes (including Kavanagh's colleagues Rouzbeh Rashidi, Jann Clavadetscher and Maximilian Le Cain) who have already begun turning into 'animals'.
After his arrival which is depicted as some sort of meta-filmic, reality-dissolving teleportation during the prologue, he meets a woman (or a queen bee, embodied by Anja Mahler) and engages in what appears as a mating ritual. Paced to the rhythm of his rather futile interventions, his adventure in a land that's both familiar and unknown is part avant-garde horror infused by troubled couple melodrama, part lyrical (almost Tarkovskian) meditation interrupted by noir-esque thriller and all a dark phantasmagoria existing in 'the deep recesses of the very film', as the official synopsis notes.
Split in two chapters titled Ape Man and Rat King, the unconventional narrative is delivered purely via imagery captured in various formats (standard + Super 8mm, 9.5mm, 16mm, 35mm and 70mm) and eclectic score ranging from noise to droney electronica to classical music by the romanticist Max Bruch. Kavanagh utilizes various visual ticks, tricks and techniques to create often abstract, esoteric and mystifying eye-candy that will haunt you for days... Humans can be strange creatures, but some filmmakers are like aliens.