SXSW Film: American Animal

When I first started doing my research for the SXSW film festival the trailer for American Animal stood tall as the film that I was most excited to see. With madness set to the tune of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” how could I not get excited? However, I’m not beyond the realization that excitement from a trailer can be a dangerous thing. Trailers can make even the worst film look incredible, just take a few exciting moments, string them together with a moving musical center piece and voilà, excitement ensues. Lucky for me American Animal is more than a trailer, more than a ball of excitement wrapped around a monumental song, it’s a real film and the kind of film that grabs your core and never let’s go.

In the first moments of American Animal we are introduced to Jimmy (Matt D’Elia) and the plethora of medication he must consume to continue his life of insanity. After this consumption of drug-store life-supports Jimmy coughs blood into a napkin and is ready to start his day, little does he know today will be the day that his world is turned upside down as his roommate James (Brendan Fletcher) has an earth-shaking announcement to make. This announcement, while it could be considered simple to most, is just the kind of fuel Jimmy needs to turn a night of fun and celebration into the strange and bizarre. To add more fuel to the fire James has invited his friends Angela (Mircea Monroe) and Not Blonde Angela (Angela Sarafyan) to enjoy the night’s festivities. You see James is about to move on with his life by starting a new job, a thing that for most would be cause for celebration, but for Jimmy it’s just the cause for realization that his friend is moving on.

To say that the summation I just gave is all there is to American Animal would be a lie as the plot is just the setting for other more intriguing stories that require you to take a closer look into the subject of the film and for a few, a closer look into your own life. It’s one of those films that everyone is going to have a different take on. My only hope is that everyone will be able to join in on the conversation. Well, enough ranting, I’ll get off my soap box and hopefully intrigue you with my take on American Animal.

Everyone has had one of those drunken nights where the mixture of alcohol and people reaches the perfect point for a monumental conversation. The problem with these conversations is that they only sound good in the world of inebriation. The second viewing of a video of the night just makes you seem like a fool, but in that time and space when everyone is listening you feel like a king. All your thoughts and cares are gone, the social buffer is overflowing and you’re finally free. To say that is the meaning of American Animal would just be scraping the surface. You have to dig deeper, past the film’s exterior to see what it’s really trying to say.

This is the point where I fell in love with the film. Everything was flowing together, the beauty of the set design, the validity of the acting, and that moment where you feel like you’re witnessing something fresh and new. Everything Matt D’Elia put into this film screams for attention and well deserved attention. It’s rare when a film maker hits all the right notes with their first feature, but when it happens it’s definitely something special. D’Elia has it and I can’t imagine that American Animal will be the last that we hear of him. Raw talent like that just never goes away and I can’t wait to see what he has planned next.

To just talk about the film’ s direction would be selling it short. With a cast of only four actors the requirement was high that they all give spectacular performances. While D’Elia himself was definitely the highlight of the film. It’s hard to deny the talents of the cast as a whole. Brendan Fletcher, Mircea Monroe, and Angela Sarafyan are fantastic in their roles as Jimmy’s play things. It’s always more of a challenge to play the low key characters, but without their grounded personas Jimmy would have nothing to play off of. The act of understanding this key element is just another bullet point in the greatness of American Animal.

It is so tempting to just dive head first into my thoughts of the film and start writing about it’s real core. At this moment in time I feel like it’s a better conversation to have in person. A conversation that I hope to have with as many of you as possible upon the film’s release. We can discuss the reality of the characters and if they represent two parts of a person. On one hand we have pure id with Jimmy only counteracting the responsibility of James. On the female side of things we have the blonde hottie Angela the girl every guy wants to be with in comparison to the opinionated plain brunette Angela. Is this that take that D’Elia was aiming for? Does it matter? You could even take the spin on the film that Jimmy is dying and only becoming more enraged as he watches his friends live their lives. This constant barrage of life only makes him want to take advantage of every moment even if the impulse of that moment is bordering on insanity. But those are just my thoughts.

American Animal can be all or none of these things to you. The point is giving audiences the chance to decide for themselves, striking up every connoisseur of film’s favorite subject “meaning”. That’s the magic behind American Animal in it’s ability to become what ever you want it to be and in turn become the viewer’s film just as much as it’s creator. That’s why just saying that you should see this film is such an understatement. What you need to do is fight, claw and run to become a part of the American Animal.

I give American Animal 5 “It’s Show Time” out of 5

by Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

Follow Ryan Here: