It's Day 2 of Telluride Horror Show and we were treated to a broad range of feature films and shorts that made us laugh and cower. Tonight, I'll be covering two of the feature films in The Columnist and Anonymous Animals. Let's get into it!
Anonymous Animals Review
A group of people are exposed to an array of horrors at the hands of human-like figures with various animal heads.
While I enjoyed this somber, unsettling piece of nuanced horror, it was not as well received amidst my viewing group. Which leads me to the realization that Anonymous Animals is not for everyone and that it is particularly hard to define its intended audience. The heavy-handed messaging of its animal cruelty compass will turn off some, where its arthouse, dialogue-less plot will turn off others, and yet it still contains enough dark and disturbing material to turn off even more. So who is it for? Admittedly I'm not sure, but I'll do my best to dissect it here and let you make your own decision should you come across it.
The sound design and cinematography are certainly the heroes here. The ambiance is established early with stark, dreary shots of foggy landscapes, and damp, muggy rooms. Despite the limited (and often complete lack of) movement of the taxidermy-like animal heads, the primal sounds uttered throughout the runtime further establish the depth of the animal/human hybrids. No words are needed when we see the fear and confusion in the eyes of the humans and the guttural sounds emanating from the beasts. We see exactly what's happening here, and the various vignettes mesh into a cycle that delivers its message clearly.
While heavy-handed (some may even say pretentious) in its messaging, the wordless action still manages to establish a sense of dread, hopelessness and fright into the viewer that works as a powerful metaphor towards humanity's treatment of animals. The role-reversals of livestock, dogs, and game animals is terrifying and highly accurate to reality in its symbolism.
Having delivered all of these kudos, this film is simply quite...niche. The taxidermy-esque animal heads on human bodies is something you have to buy into from the beginning. Either it's sensible within the world and unsettling, or it's goofy and disconnecting to the viewer. The lack of dialogue and imbalanced camera work can be disjointing. The heavy-handed messaging can be off-putting. Yet, beyond all of that, I found the film impactful, not that it opens one's eyes to the atrocities of humanity on animals (though it makes every effort to do that), but it gives human emotions to the plights of some of these animals. When removing it from the context of the film's goal, I found it effective work.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 7/10
Horror Quality: 5/10
Film Quality: 7/10
The Columnist Review
A dark comedy pulled from the Netherlands, this film follows a writer, Femke, who decides to take violent vengeance upon those that shame and attack her on social media.
In many ways, social media is a universal language. It offers many of the same advantages and horrible curses in every language and country it exists in (which is pretty much every single one). This film dives into the horrors that await any of us on social media and the violent lengths that this writer, Femke, is willing to go to rid the world of the trolls that lurk in any social media comment section. It's introspective, morbidly cathartic, and distinctive in its social commentary.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this film is the breadth and depth of its moral compass. It didn't settle to simply convey a message on the semi-superficial moral ground of "don't be a jerk on the internet"...It also tackled the obsession we all have to be accepted by those on the internet and the hypocrisy prevalent in many discussions involving freedom of speech.
While the overarching plot of taking vengeance upon those who use the internet to hurt others is effective and cathartic in its own right, the film truly earns its stripes with the subversive plot involving Femke's daughter and her quest for free speech at her school. While Femke is murdering those whom she despises for their harsh words, she quickly turns around and supports her daughter in her pursuit of free speech against the principle. It's tragically ironic as it forces you to balance your empathy for the Femke who is unfairly being called a pedophile on the internet, while also charging her for the hypocrisy she is blind to.
The greatest tight rope walk of it all is that you genuinely care for her and her story despite the flaws in her thinking. Most everyone has been subject to harsh words or bullying on the internet, so there is genuine empathy for her plight, but at the same time we have an inherent investment in freedom of speech. And Efrit raised a good point...if we are under constant scrutiny for what we say and there are consequences for those words, do we ever truly have freedom of speech? Is that kind of freedom of speech true freedom, or should we hold each other to a higher standard of avoiding hateful speech at the expense of some freedom (in terms of consequence)? It's a massive can of worms that this film opened.
BUT...as this is predominantly a horror review site...the film didn't offer up much in terms of pure horror. It falls lightly on the side of mild horror comedy with its moments of violence and gore and the nonchalant demeanor of Femke. It's equal parts lighthearted and heavy with its plots and subplots, including her romantic relationship with her once-rival who provides emotional support in his handling of his own online persona and his kind yet stern reminders that Femke should stay out of the comments. It's a film with weight and connection, yet it teases it all through a darkly comedic narrative that makes it easier to digest. The Columnist is definitely a film to look for in the future.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 6/10
Horror Quality: 4/10
Film Quality: 8/10