Cinema: ‘We The Animals’ Is Off The Wall Insane

We The Animals is a coming of age film directed by Jeremiah Zagar. Based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name by Justin Torres, the film follows a young boy of half Puerta Rican, half white heritage named Jonah and his two older brothers as they grow up in a less than stable household. The film showcases what its like to live in a blue-collar family that is struggling to get by, and it’s not always easy to watch. While the film also contains plenty of fantastical elements, it’s a mostly grounded story of a boy who struggles to fit in with a family, that he constantly feels more and more detached from. It’s a sad story that’s open-endedness will either cause audiences to love or hate it. 

The use of sound in We The Animals is very effective. The movie starts out very loud and isn’t afraid to stay loud for minutes on end. This helps emphasize the rowdiness of the children and also serves to unsettle audience members. With most of the movie being loud and rambunctious, when scenes are quiet you immediately become more invested. On top of the use of sound, the film also uses animation in the form of Jonah’s drawings to help convey emotions and add power to scenes. The stark black figures he often draws are juxtaposed with bright colors Simple tasks like drinking soy sauce are transformed to feel like the boys are drinking some sort of secret vile that fills them with fire inside. These animated scenes were a little too artsy for my tastes at times, as I was often left scratching my head at the meaning of the more ambiguous scenes, but I suppose the feverish feeling does help capture the clearly warped mind of the protagonist.

The film is littered with loads of close up shots. While they do serve a purpose of bringing us into the head-space of the main characters, but it can feel a little excessive at times. The cinematography was quite nice and there were many gorgeous wide shots that showed off the various settings. Beyond the great camera work, the acting in the movie is also excellent. Children are some of the hardest characters to cast, and I’m always extremely impressed whenever a director is able to bring out great performances in films that are made up of predominantly children. Each of the three main boys did terrific jobs and they deserve special mention for being able to show such a wide and genuine appearing amount of emotion. The film’s adult cast also did a great job and all the characters felt as if they were picked up from real households.

We The Animals is not for the faint of heart. Despite being a mostly tame coming of age story, there are many disturbing and hard to watch scenes present throughout. As the film goes on, these scenes seem to increase. These moments do keep audience members on the edge of their seats, as you’re left wondering what crazy thing We The Animals is going to do next, but it often felt like the movie only did some of these things for the shock value. There are plenty of scenes that I feel would have worked with showing less, like when an older neighbor decides to show the boys pornography. The movie could have easily just had the sounds instead of showing the contents of the video in vivid detail. Other than extra uncomfortableness and shock value, I don’t see what this added to the film. Sometimes leaving things to the imagination make for a greater impact. This idea was cemented further into me when Paps punched Ma in the face. We never see Paps punch her, but we are slowly led up to the reveal of the damage. By not seeing the initial punch, it’s made all that more intense when Ma finally pulls the cover down from her face. I think not showing the pornography in full force would’ve helped make the reveal at the end all that more unexpected and impactful.

There is no real plot in We The Animals. Instead, the movie is made up of various moments from Jonah’s day to day life. While the film never seems to travel farther than a year or so, it’s hard to know exactly how much time has passed between each scene. Sometimes it could be a matter of days or even as much as several months. We are only given vague clues to the time of year by the style of characters’ clothes, the length of characters’ hair and the weather. Each scene is interesting on its own, but the film never really amounts to anything. The second to last scene which contains a disturbing reveal is hardly addressed by the other characters and the film moves on to the next one as if nothing of note had happened. It can be frustrating seeing plotline set up, but not knowing if there will be a resolution to them. The ending, in particular, is not very satisfying and answers just about nothing. I don’t mind an ambiguous ending to a certain degree, but I was left wondering if We The Animals ended the way it did because it did not know how else to.

In the end, We The Animals is not going to be for all audiences. If you can appreciate a film with stellar filmmaking, but whose story is tenuous at best, you may find some enjoyment in We The Animals. If overly ambiguous films or films with plenty of disturbing themes and imagery aren’t your cup of tea though, I would probably recommend on skipping out on this movie. What We The Animals does well it does spectacular, but what it fails, it fails quite hard. Either way, if you do see We The Animals you’re certainly in for quite an unexpected trip. We The Animals will likely make you feel many different emotions, but bored is not one of them.