Like Ginger Snaps before it, When Animals Dream repurposes the werewolf myth as a feminist howl into the night. Marie (Sonia Suhl) manifests her lycanthropy as coarse hair in surprising places, bloody nails. She’s told that she’ll “change emotionally and be short-tempered and aggressive.” The opening scene surveys her clinical examination by an elderly male doctor (Stig Hoffmeyer), scrutinising her form as though she were an animal. The other men who inhabit her isolated Scandanavian town regard her with suspicion, fear or disgust; an attitude shared by the films pallid miasma of contorted tension, which channels the nauseating sensation of being unwelcome in one’s own skin.
The film, from Scandinavian director Jonas Alexander Arnby, operates primarily as an extended reflection on the patriarchy(-in-microcosm)’s discomfort with assertive women, recalling Von Trier’s Dogville and Breaking the Waves. But its attempts to operate as a low-key romance or monster movie are less successful. Arnby’s direction emphasises body language and malevolent glances over dialogue, but the abruptness of the final act suggests that he’s compensating for an undercooked screenplay. It’s not that an ambiguous conclusion is unwelcome, but the climax feels clumsy and unconsidered. It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise captivating mood piece.