Like Animals

By Leland Montgomery | Drama
3 sisters try to move on with their lives after their mother's death.

Three sisters are ready to move and sell their mother’s home after their death. They’re ready to embark on a new stage of life and figure out how to move forward with their lives.

But then their brother shows up with his fiance with a different plan for the house as executor of their mother’s will. And his choice will force everyone to reckon with their current stage in life — and the role they and their family played in it.

Writer-director Leland Montgomery’s domestic drama — co-written with Tom Dugdale — examines the push and pull of families themselves, and the tensions between being a refuge of familiarity and an emotional trap.

Shot against the stunning backdrop of the California desert, the film takes its time establishing the emotional atmosphere of the three sisters and their relationships with themselves and one another. There is a closeness, but that closeness can also seem cloistered, and each sister is eager to break out of their ruts.

Visually, the film reflects this dichotomy with its visual approach. The cinematography leverages the dramatic beauty of its desert setting, bathing the images in a warm, almost halcyon glow. But within this glowing light are plenty of shadows and dark angles that also emphasize the sisters’ emotional claustrophobia, particularly in how the house itself is shot and portrayed.

Sonically, there’s also a dissonant, almost Western feel to the sound design and score that adds an artful element of discord and uneasiness to the film’s subconscious, creating an undercurrent of gnawing tension.

The storytelling gains momentum when the brother enters the plot, injecting energy and outer-focused conflict into the more meditative proceedings. The drama comes to the surface, aided by great performances by the short’s ensemble.

Actors Zoe Chao, Cass Bugge, Tera McHenry and Chris Aguila make for a believable group of siblings, able to telegraph a deep connection of shared history with an equally deep-lying alienation that spikes up in unexpected moments. When the brother reveals his plans for the house, the tension lines between them open up at long last, leading to a fierce confrontation and a spilling forth of the lingering resentments and disappointments that have built up.

“Like Animals” is a restless film, both in style and feeling, mirroring the restlessness of the sisters who live in the house. Beyond its familial drama, it’s also about what it means to feel stuck in life and a prisoner of our circumstances — and confronting the ways our emotional patterns and past can imprison us as well

Though the ending is resolutely open, “Like Animals” also offers the idea that true freedom comes from the inside. Or that the real relief isn’t from being free, but from acceptance, and may come when we “greet the world with love,” as the film itself says. “But what other option do we have?” The question lingers well after the film’s ending, teasing us as a query for reflection upon the ways we are trapped, or at least shaped by circumstances that aren’t ours to control.

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