REVIEW: Animal Behaviour [2018]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: NR | Runtime: 14 minutes | Release Date: 2018 (Canada)
Studio: National Film Board of Canada
Director(s): David Fine & Alison Snowden
Writer(s): David Fine & Alison Snowden

“See? You’re fine.”

It’s a rather shrewd personification that’s at the back of Alison Snowden and David Fine‘s Animal Behaviour. We accept the impulses of animals—even adore them sometimes—but prove desperate to curb our own. The idea is that they don’t know better and we do. It’s our more evolved brains that allow us to see how harmful our impulses can be and decide to consciously work towards correcting them. Those who can’t and, more importantly, those who refuse are thus deemed “animals” themselves. Murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals are relinquished of their humanity because they acted without thinking. So the joke is therefore to fantasize what it would be like if wild beasts felt our shame and regret. How would their therapy sessions unfold?

The punch line is of course that they wouldn’t be much different than our own. So you let the animal with the most capacity for training to be the psychologist (Ryan Beil‘s dog Dr. Clement) and play up the stereotypical traits of others as his patients. There’s the separation anxiety-ridden leech (Leah Juel‘s Lorraine), the perpetually single mother of thousands praying mantis (Andrea Libman‘s Cheryl), the gluttonous self-sabotaging pig (Toby Berner‘s Todd), the obsessive-compulsive cat (Snowden’s Linda), and the guilty bird with long-term memory issues (James Kirk‘s Jeffrey). They form a tight-knit bunch that has become aware of each other’s hang-ups and works to keep them at the forefront of their present to learn from rather than act on. And then Victor the ape (Taz Van Rassel) arrives.

How does the latter’s anger affect his inclusion and ultimately alter the group’s dynamic? Does injecting such a raw lack of impulse control into a session wherein everyone more or less talks about accepting their issues and coping with them rather than struggling for a solution prove a gross miscalculation? He brings a lot of stimuli to combat—enough that even Dr. Clement risks regressing to his past canine proclivities. The result is a funny satirical look at our own psychological fragility through the guise of cartoonish buffoonery with a few authentic moments that might just stop you in your tracks. Victor is desperate after all, but will only accept his temper exists once it inflicts pain onto others. I’m sure many audience members can relate.

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