The Movie Waffler Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - ANIMAL | The Movie Waffler

Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - ANIMAL

Animal review
A holiday camp performer begins to question her life with the arrival of a young dancer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sofia Exarchou

Starring: Dimitra Vlagkopoulou, Voodoo Jürgens, Flomaria Papadaki, Ahilleas Hariskos

Animal poster

There's perhaps no more cretinous critique of a film than to moan about how "nothing happens." It's usually a sign of a bad viewer rather than a bad movie, or if I'm being more generous, an inattentive viewer. It's often levelled at films that are more concerned with character psychology than plot, films like writer/director Sofia Exarchou's Animal. There's no obvious narrative here, at least not in the foreground, but there's a very mainstream plot playing out in the background. If you don't pick up on it, don't feel bad. The film's protagonists don't even realise what story they're a part of here.

Animal review

That story is All About Eve, relocated to a modern day all-inclusive holiday resort on a Greek island. The Margo Channing surrogate here is Kalia (Dimitra Vlagkopoulou), a thirtysomething "animateur" whose job is to entertain the resort's geriatric guests through song, dance and general cheerleading. She's been performing this role since she left home as a teenager, and she hasn't given it much thought since. Her evenings are occupied catering to the whims of elderly holidaymakers while at night she and some of her colleagues make a sideline dancing in a nearby nightclub. She drinks into the late hours, sometimes has sex with fellow veteran animateur Simos (Ahilleas Hariskos), and wakes each morning with a raging hangover. Rinse and repeat.

Kalia begins to question her lifestyle with the arrival of Animal's Eve Harrington stand-in, the not-so subtly named Eva (Flomaria Papadaki). The 17-year-old Eva has fled small town Poland in search of the same dreams Kalia chased at that age, and is taken under the older performer's wing. Where Animal strays from its All About Eve influences is in how Eva never actively embarks on a campaign to upstage and ultimately replace Kalia. It simply occurs organically and neither of the two women are entirely aware that it's happening. We get the sense that Kalia has spent the years refusing to think too deeply about her life in order to cope with it, engaging instead in the sensual pursuits of sex and alcohol. Eva on the other hand appears more contemplative, shy even, which makes her stand out among her raucous fellow performers, whose found family dynamic is reminiscent of the band of magazine subscription sellers in Andrea Arnold's American Honey. As the animateurs get wasted and sing and dance, Eva is always on their periphery, watching intently. She makes choices that she doesn't seem all too comfortable with, including allowing herself to be essentially sexually assaulted, all just to fit in. We can't help but wonder what horrors she left behind in Poland.

Animal review

Like the many films that have focussed on performers who rely on their physicality in the wake of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and his own All About Eve reworking Black SwanAnimal is keen to highlight the brittle nature of flesh and bone in scenes that verge on body-horror. Collapsing while drunkenly performing in the nightclub, Kalia sustains a deep cut below her knee that evolves into a gaping maw that mocks her deteriorating body. Rather than visit a doctor and jeopardise her job, Kalia goes full John McClane and staples the wound together in one particularly gruelling scene.

Kalia's physical pain eventually succumbs to emotional hurt as she finds sex and alcohol can no longer salve her existential wounds. Everything that has given her pleasure in her life begins to lose its meaning, be it dancing, drinking or fucking. Vlagkopoulou's striking performance reaches a peak in an unbearable karaoke rendition of the Eurovision classic 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie," a song she's sung a million times but whose deceptively sad lyrics she only now truly understands.

Animal review

Contrary to its key influence, Animal is all about Kalia. It's the sad tale of an aging performer being upstaged not by a younger rival, but by the lost youth they represent. It's a horror movie about the day you wake up to your first grey hair, when you realise that occasional pain in your lower back isn't going away with time after all. It's a body-horror in the truest sense of the term.

Animal plays at the 2024 Raindance Film Festival on June 23rd.

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