This review is going to be a bit different from others, as I have chosen this week to change things up a bit and give you a spoiler-filled review of “Nocturnal Animals.”
You may wonder that doing so defeats the purpose of seeing a film. You would be right, as that is exactly what I aim to do. So, if you have seen previews for “Nocturnal Animals” — what is being advertised as a taut revenge thriller, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal — and have been foaming at the mouth to see it, you probably don’t want to read any further beyond this sentence.
The film literally fades in with dancing, naked women. These aren’t swimsuit models either; these are very large, elderly women with a lot of extra skin dancing against red velvet backdrops, some waving sparklers or various props while wearing odd little outfits that don’t cover any of the areas that should be covered. There is a lot of awkward flailing skin within the first two minutes, and that just may make you shrink down to the very bottom of your seat.
As the camera pans out, it is revealed to be a very strange and bizarre art gallery exhibit, run by Amy Adams’ character, Susan Morrow. Through the unnecessarily artsy camera work that begins with the excessively fleshy opening and continues through the entire film, we learn that Adams’ character is cold, pretentious and selfish — a wannabe artist that never bothered to try and be an artist, mostly because it wouldn’t give her monetary success.
Aside from the financial success she has seemed to acquire in her professional life, Morrow’s personal life sucks. She lives in a sterile-looking house in L.A. decorated with art that only rich people would buy because they don’t have anything to spend money on aside from themselves. Her current husband is clearly cheating on her, as she fields him with the usual, “You never came home” and “You have to leave for New York again?” dialogue that is necessary cliché in a movie like this.
But the real meat of “Nocturnal Animals” kicks off when Susan’s ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal, the best thing about the movie), sends her his most current manuscript of his book, which is titled, and you guessed it, “Nocturnal Animals.” Dedicated to Susan after she left him years prior, Susan delves into the book, beginning the story within the story.
The part of the movie that is the book played out on screen involves Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his family being run off the road in secluded West Texas and attacked by hoodlums. While Tony escapes, his wife and child are taken and bad things happen to them. There’s some good stuff to this content, especially the detective played by Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays the lead murderer/hoodlum.
Now, the trailers and the ads would have you believe that the book that Susan is reading is a veiled threat toward her, acting as a bit of a double thriller — one within the book she’s reading and the outlying plot around it. This is not so in the least and borders on false advertising. We find out that the book is a reflection of Edward’s grief after a series of flashbacks to his and Susan’s history. Susan is revealed to be as big of a selfish loser as we think: She married Edward. Then, when she didn’t believe he could make it (monetarily) as a writer, she cheated on him and aborted their pregnancy so that her divorce could go smoothly and she could hook up with her currently unfaithful husband.
This backstory of Susan and Edward is intercut with the scenes of the book and are sequenced so awfully that the way the movie plays out becomes jarring and off-putting very quickly. It’s not confusing, just incredibly annoying how it tries to cleverly jump between three realities — past Susan, present Susan, fictional Edward/Tony.
Through very unsubtle imagery, like Susan cutting her finger on the box the book arrived in, a bird hitting her window and dying in the middle of the night, an art piece hanging in her gallery that says “revenge” in big white letters, a jump scare hallucination in a baby monitor video as well as the escalating actions of the fictional book, it seems that some kind of confrontation in Susan’s world is approaching between her and her ex.
Then the ending came, and an instant wave of complete dislike for the movie sets in. Morrow reads the book and is moved by it. She sets up a dinner date with Edward over e-mail, expecting to make amends. He agrees, as it is apparent he has been hoping to illicit some kind of response from her by sending the very disturbing book he has written. She shows up to dinner after slipping on a sexy dress and taking her current wedding ring off. She gets to their table to wait for him, and hours go by. He doesn’t show up. She looks drunk and depressed. Credits roll. I get it, the best revenge is success, and that fiction is more interesting than reality. But that still doesn’t make the ending any less weak.
Between the bizarre opening, obnoxiously artsy storyline jumps and, literally the most anticlimactic ending I have ever seen in a movie, this film’s and its director’s biggest problems are reflected in Susan’s character. It is cold and pretentious beyond all belief. It is so focused on proving how clever, graphic and thought-provoking it can be that it completely fails at delivering a fulfilling experience.
It’s like being led into a freak show expecting to be shocked and surprised by unimaginable horrors, only to find out that you paid 10 bucks to see a mummified pig embryo in a jar, which is exactly how ugly “Nocturnal Animals” is.
“Nocturnal Animals” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle is a 2008 graduate of Aberdeen High and holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.