Beneath the artistry, ‘When Animals Dream’ is nothing new

It’s tiring sitting through the same horror movie time and again. There are a few diamonds in the rhinestones, but “When Animals Dream” is just another rhinestone. It’s got a diamond’s sheen, but with none of its strength. Sometimes, that sheen raises the atmosphere and tone well; however, the rest of the movie never follows. In fact, “When Animals Dream” is so underwhelming that it’s hard to form an opinion about it. At its deepest, it’s an average horror flick veiled by artistry.

Marie (Sonia Suhl) lives in a lonely fishing village with her father, Thor (Lars Mikkelsen, “The Day Will Come”) and her seemingly catatonic mother, Mor (Sonja Richter, “Gentlemen”). After a strange rash appears on Marie’s chest, she begins to change. Something is amiss in the village, however. It seems that everyone knows what’s happening to her better than she does.

Transformation narratives, broken down, are more about the “before” than the “after.” “Before,” the character is built up, given dimension while the affliction spreads. “After,” the man becomes the monster, and the attributes of both get too mixed up to tell who’s who. The problem with “When Animals Dream” is that the before establishes nothing about Marie, opting instead to build her relationships with other, equally vague people.

So when the after hits, it’s not scary or effective in any way. Things just kind of happen, and they’re left there. Viewers have to take it on faith that, without knowing who she was before, Marie is very different now, so she will do very different things. Horrible things. Look at how monstrous she’s become! But when you only see the monster, is it really monstrous?

Even worse, the movie falls back on the usual thematic territory: the dangers of female sexuality. This doesn’t hurt the movie, it just lumps it in further with most horror out there. It just feels so safe. And in a world with horror like “The Witch,” “The Babadook,” and “It Follows,” “When Animals Dream” just doesn’t cut it.

In the end, this movie is your typical werewolf flick, but it’s got enough of an artistic sheen to feel different. And that’s its biggest trick. Truly, the movie wants to be subversive and interesting. Its fascinating texture is evidence of that. But it just isn’t. It’s too familiar and indistinct to take on a life of its own. For a movie so focused on transformation, it’s ironic that “When Animals Dream” never evolves itself.