Only the Animals review – icy and elegant murder mystery

Dominik Moll's disturbing, non-linear noir - set across two continents - lets its audience draw their own moral conclusions

To make a single shaggy dog story into a compelling movie is a hard enough task in its own right, but to make a mystery comprised of five individual shaggy dog stories seems like a form of madness. Amazingly, Dominik Moll’s Only the Animals pulls off the feat, resulting in a twisty, chilly, and disturbing whodunit that strings you along carefully and manages to satisfy even with its vaguer, more ambiguous conclusions.

Taking place in both rural France and the Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan, the inciting incident for Only the Animals is the murder of wealthy French woman Evelyne Ducat (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) during a blizzard. From here, Moll, adapting the novel by Colin Biel, splinters the narrative, telling the stories of five people who are, tangentially or directly, involved in Evelyne’s death.

Moving across continents and back and forth through time, Moll introduces us to the cheating wives, lying husbands, disturbed farmers, stalkers, and petty criminals who will eventually, between them, craft the web in which Evelyne is fatally caught. These stories work as little mysteries of their own, and collide with one another in interesting ways. The first chapter initially looks like the last days of a marriage, compellingly acted by Laure Calamy and Denis Menochet, but – with hindsight – morphs into something far stranger once we see how it moves in tandem with another segment about a suicidal sheep farmer.

We then jump backwards in time to Evelyne’s doomed affair with a delusional young waitress, which connects directly to the longest and most intriguing chapter, set in Abidjan. Here, we follow Armand (Guy Roger N’Drin), a young man who specialises in scamming older men out of thousands of euros by pretending to be needy French girls online. It’s a fascinating world to gain an insight to, and Armand and his friends are great company.

After their first big score landing €1000 for “plane tickets” for the non-existent “Amandine” (Armand chooses this name himself, and his conscious merging of his own identity with that of a fictional white girl is an interesting, if underexplored character trait), they hit the town in a riotous party scene. It’s charming and funny, a welcome contrast to the bleak cold of the France-set chapters. It might put the brakes on the film’s pace, but it’s more than worth it, telling an immersive story that could easily be a feature fill of its own.

The all important scene in which Armand connects to Evelyn and the rest of the French coterie is handled with great care. It could have seemed absurdly contrived, but instead fits perfectly with the noirish tone and slightly heightened, morality play-esque plotting found elsewhere. Armand’s story leads directly into the final denouement, which does provide answers, even if these answers don’t give the audience the closure they might want.

Only the Animals could have been an incredibly unwieldy beast, and it is tough to talk about the plot without getting lost in a quagmire of connections and spoilers, but by the end you realise just how elegant its construction really is. Moll drops you into a morass of lies and deviancy without being overly confusing, and balances the darkness with light and levity, respecting his audience’s intelligence enough to let them draw their own moral conclusions. A rich slice of pulp entertainment that demands and rewards in almost equal measure.

Only the Animals is now available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema.

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