After the death of their mother, three sisters try to figure out how to move forward with their lives. This is our review of writer/director Leland Montgomery’s family drama Like Animals.
Families can go along for years without ever facing the underlying problems in their relationships, but sometimes a tragedy can bring everything out in the open when everyone is at their most vulnerable. Leland Montgomery’s Like Animals begins at a time like that for a family who is attending their mother’s funeral; a death that leaves three sisters still living at home in a scruffily manufactured suburban existence. The rest of the shorts 14-minute run time is about how they finally have to deal with the ways they really feel about one another.
There is the headstrong Mary, (Zoe Chao) Wistful Local teacher Olga, (Cass Bugge) and the outwardly distant Irene (Tera McHenry) who always seems to be running away from something. Also attending the funeral is their brother Andy (Chris Aguila) who has been living in LA with his fiancé, Nate (William Thomas Hodgson). The short begins as all of these lives are falling apart and then thrown together into a melting pot of emotion.
The shorts’ main issues consist of the complexities of love and envy. The four remaining family members all love each other, but while the three sisters want to move away from their small town to change their lives completely, their brother wants to move back home and settle down with his husband to be.
This doesn’t sit well with Mary, the most vocal and foreboding of the siblings, as she wants to sell the house to use the money to move on. In the short’s stand out scene she comes at Chris with both barrels and is not shy in telling him what she really thinks. Olga agrees with Mary but is far less troubled by the news. In the meantime, the character of Irene remains somewhat out of the picture here, which is a shame, but we assume she would be happy either way. The problem the sisters have is that Andy is the executor of their mother’s will and being so, means that the final decision rests solely with him.
All the girls envy the fact that Andy was chosen to do this job, while also envying him for taking his chance to escape their small town and creating a life for himself away from the family. The fact he returns home having found love with his fiancé in hand only rubs salt into the already deep wounds of his sisters.
Like Animals begins with this girls vs. boys, two-way emotional standoff and then develops it as much as it’s run time will allow, but what I admired about the execution was that you can see the character development and the changes they go through. So many family dramas begin with a problem and then examine it’s meaning on the individuals involved and I was frustrated that we couldn’t fully investigate all of the siblings equally but that is a minor gripe.
The performances are all very strong and the cinematography of Eli Arenson is excellent with the golds and brown colours very reminiscent of the Leone westerns, particularly the way he frames the dust bowl that the characters were living in. His work here gives us a sense of scale and emptiness that emphasises the backwoods, middle of nowhere feeling that the three sisters share.
Director Montgomery places all these events in an alien suburban world that is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against the town or its characters, the problems of these people are not caused by their environment but by their own choices and decisions and like it or not they will have to deal with them. Like Animals is an intelligent and gently moving drama whose characters, scenery and music, fit perfectly with its source material.