Director: Laura Alvea, Jose Ortuno
Writer: Laura Alvea, Jose Ortuno
Producer: Olmo Figueredo Gonzalez-Quevedo
Stars: Clare Durant, Ivan Pellicer, Luis Bermejo, Liz Lobato, Chaca Huang, Angela Molina
Haunted by strange visions, a troubled teen discovers that her best friend hides a secret connected to her deepest fears.
Their fractured families were neighbors in the same apartment building first. But Alex and Bram became fast friends as young children after Alex consoled the tearful boy over his broken yo-yo and bitterly bickering parents.
Ten years later, the two teens look forward to graduating together, although evolving into adulthood presents new problems. Bram’s interest in his crush Anchi normally wouldn’t be a big deal between these platonic pals, except Alex now needs the kind of comfort she offered Bram when they were kids.
At a dance club, in the shower, or simply while riding an elevator, Alex can’t shake a dark silhouette seemingly stalking in every shadow. Alex’s mind might be tormenting her to match the physical scars of self-abuse adorning hidden parts of her body. Bram’s new romance already hinders how much attention he can turn toward Alex. His father’s powder keg personality and mother’s suicidal spiral preoccupy Bram even more.
Troubles at home aren’t the only weight on Bram’s mind. Cryptic inferences and unfinished conversations hint at a secret Bram isn’t ready to spill. Whatever he is hiding could be the key to freeing Alex from the apparition. Or it could open the door to a torment more terrifying than either teen is prepared for.
I went into “Animas” knowing nothing about its story. IMDb’s plot summary simply said, “this time, horror comes from the other side.” A preview poster tagline only offered, “a teenage mind is a terrifying place.” The press release included details like, “everything changes when (Bram’s) father dies … from this moment on, Alex finds herself on a hallucinatory journey that takes her on a descent into hell.” I wonder if those words were written from production notes by a copywriter unfamiliar with the film, because Bram’s father doesn’t die (Bram says he is in critical condition) and Alex’s visions begin before that event.
So when it isn’t exploring themes of coming-of-age pain and uncertain self-identity, what then is “Animas” “about?”
Other than watching a troubled teen girl experience vaguely haunting phenomena for reasons unknown, approximately 50 minutes of “Animas” passes before its plot takes a less nebulous shape. Unfortunately, and perhaps unavoidably due to how delicately the big reveal has to be handled, the structure of the mystery puts the movie in a hole that repetitively plodding sequences can’t dig the narrative out of. Slow and steady may win the race, but it doesn’t make for an energetically engaging movie.
Alex, Bram, or both? Who am I meant to relate to and what reasons are there to remain invested? The backward build of the fiction creates a frustrating experience whose purpose remains hazy for so long, intrigue wanes rapidly in the interim.
“Animas” mostly molds its waking dream settings, very capably I might add, from artful flourishes. Rich red and green colors overindulge in a “Suspiria” lighting scheme that becomes overbearing, yet effectively adds to surreal splashes of woozy melancholy. Camerawork captures carefully choreographed actions with finely fluid movements. “Animas” looks to be low budget, and is staged inside restrictive locations. But filmmakers Laura Alvea and Jose Ortuno make the most out of every inch of space through thoughtful blocking, creative direction, and production design that would earn accolades on a bigger project with an additional zero in its bank account.
As Alex and Bram, Clare Durant and Ivan Pellicer are good at what they are given to do, which admittedly isn’t a whole lot more than moping, feigning fear, trembling into tears, or expressing other emotive actions. “Animas” doesn’t depend on dialogue. It doesn’t have to since there isn’t much story to tell. As skilled as Durant and Pellicer are at communicating without words and connecting to viewers through visible emotions, “Animas” still suffers from a script whose gaps in substance are filled with laboriously long takes of walking, stalking, or just looking around in dark rooms.
The Spanish-language film, whose title translates to “Souls” in English, earns admiration for its unusual take on a somewhat familiar twist, as well as for its sincere dedication to the topic of emotionally troubled teens. Technical execution is top notch for this tier of thriller too. I’d edge up the 50/50 score if the pace did the same by at least 1.25x. It’s the side-to-side stride of unhurried ambling that grounds “Animas” from taking flight as a provocative psychological drama.
Review Score: 50