“They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed–run over, maimed, destroyed–but they continued to play anyhow.”
― Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly
Having grown up under the iron, albeit nurturing, fist of a single parent my experience with recreational drug use was (and still is) something akin to a 90’s afterschool special. As a kid I was pelted with D.A.R.E. propaganda, A Clockwork Orange style, which resulted in a pavlovian fear and, much later, a personal disdain towards doing drugs. Now, dear reader, before you get your holier-than-thou, “drugs, like, enhance the fecundity of the mind and like totally rule,” neezhnies in a twist let’s set the overpriced vinyl record straight: I’m no square, man. I’ve snorted my fair share of Adderall and even smoked a pot or two out of a homemade aluminum pipe whose long term health effects I have yet to see; I’m just not into the hard shit. Never was. Never will be. To clarify, this isn’t some half-hearted condemnation against my fellow Americans who find solace at the bottom of a coke bag. As ever the outsider looking in I’m continually intrigued, and terrified, by people whose dependency on drugs award them a form of mental escapism I was never able to ascend to. Collin Schiffli’s Animals is an understated, albeit underwhelming, portrait of that dependency.
Animals tells the story of two love sick junkies struggling to find a fix in a mad mad world. Directed by Collin Schiffli (making his feature film debut), the film stars David Dastmalchian as Jude (who also wrote the script based off of his personal experiences) and Kim Shaw as his partner in crime, Bobbie. The dynamic duo, on the verge of homelessness but not quite, live out of a car scrounging up what little resources they have to survive and financing their wayward life with a series of petty cons. However, despite their self-imposed exile from the working world the first half of the film feels like a romantic comedy offset by the recreational use of heroin. Jude and Bobbie’s affection for each other is infectious and endearing. When the film breaks away from the rampant drug use it presents us, the audience, with intimate moments between the two leads making our presence feel intrusive.
Even with its three-dimensional portrayal of people caught in the throes of drug abuse, Animals is not without its problems. The film is a by the numbers indie art-house flick that will, undoubtedly, get compared to a handful of films just like it (one in particular comes to mind). Schiffli’s emollient approach to the subject matter gives the film plenty of room to fall flat. We’ve seen this story before, many times, and it is exhausting. Jude and Bobbie are run-of-the-mill drugstore fanboys with absolutely nothing new to offer. However, despite its shortcomings, the flawless chemistry between Shaw and Dastmalchian is worth, in this writer’s mind, at least one viewing.
Ryan Darbonne is a mediocre filmmaker based out of Austin, TX. He is the founder of Cinema41, former Film Department Director at Austin Film festival and one of three unconventionally attractive men in the fiscally conservative hip hop group SPACE CAMP Death Squad.