Når dyrene drømmer) is a 2014 Danish dramatic horror mystery and the feature film directorial debut of Jonas Alexander Arnby.The film had its world premiere on May 19, 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival and stars Sonia Suhl as a teenager that discovers that she is transforming into a werewolf .
Marie (Sonia Suhl) is a shy nineteen-year-old growing up in a remote fishing village in Denmark where she lives with her father Thor ( Lars Mikkelsen ) and mother ( Sonja Richter ), who is comatose and confined to a wheelchair. She's bothered by a strange rash that develops on her chest, only to become more unnerved when she begins to sprout hair. During this time Marie begins working at a fish processing plant where her coworkers bully her under the false premise that it is hazing and not intended to be malicious. As Marie's body undergoes more changes, she begins to realize that her family has been hiding strange secrets and that her mother's current condition may relate to what Marie is currently going through.
Comparing When Animals Dream to Let The Right One In is both lazy and pertinent—lazy because both films bear the surface similarities of being slow, Scandinavian, and atmospheric, and pertinent because both use their young female protagonists as living metaphors for primal fears. But where Let The Right One In’s terrors were those of childhood, When Animals Dream deals with adolescent female sexuality, and the fear of such. This, also, is not unique. But by de-emphasizing the “moon cycle” bit and adding a family narrative, When Animals Dream congeals its influences into something intimate, intelligent, and occasionally quite haunting.
A practically expressionless Sonia Suhl makes her screen debut as Marie, a withdrawn teenage girl we see going to a doctor’s appointment in the opening scene. Even if you didn’t know the premise going in, it would be easy to figure out what’s wrong with Marie very early on in the film. (The patches of hair sprouting on her chest ensure that.) More mysterious is what’s wrong with her mother (Sonja Richter), who is kept heavily sedated and propped up in a wheelchair in the living room of their modest cottage in a tiny Danish fishing village. As Marie investigates how her mother “got sick”—discovering why her father (Lars Mikkelsen) is so protective and why their fellow villagers eye the family suspiciously in the process—she comes to understand that her condition is hereditary.
The genetic element is what distinguishes When Animals Dream from its inspirations. The coming-of-age beats, while tastefully done, are standard; subtext becomes text when Marie tells her co-worker Daniel (Jakob Oftebro), “I’m transforming into a monster, but I need to have a lot of sex first. Do you think you can help me?” Like Carrie White (another reference point for the film), Marie is a freak, and is persecuted by her neighbors—particularly the young men of the town, who like to torment her with “pranks” laden with sexual menace—for it. But unlike Carrie, Marie is not alone. As she realizes that she comes from a line of terrifyingly untamable women, Marie refuses to take the medication that will suppress her condition. She refuses to accept her mother’s (and her mother’s mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s mother’s) fate, and her self-awareness makes her even more dangerous.
Anyone expecting either a conventional werewolf thriller or a startlingly original take on the same will be disappointed by When Animals Dream. Its slow pace either complements director Jonas Alexander Arnby’s social-realism approach or slows the action to a crawl, depending on your tolerance for such things. The gore is there, as are the transformation sequences, but they’re played in such a muted fashion that their more visceral pleasures are somewhat mitigated. But viewers who check their expectations will find a solid entry into the burgeoning feminist werewolf sub-genre that’s well worth a look.