Nocturnal Animals is one of the best examples of a frame story I’ve seen in a long time. This is a story inside of a story in which a lady named Susan (Amy Adams) receives a novel manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). All he wants is her verdict before it goes to the masses. That was the external story (frame) and the internal story (inside the book) revolves around Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) whose seemingly feel-good family vacation takes a turn for the worst, through a deadly thread of events.
After an uncomfortable opening sequence, we are introduced to Amy Adams’ cold and systematic Susan Morrow, a cynical art dealer living in an expensive house in Los Angeles with her tall trophy husband Hutton (Armie Harmer). This is the story of Edward and Susan. Edward was a sensitive man, not a manly man, so to speak. She left him in horrible circumstances but he used to call her a “nocturnal animal” since she barely slept. She was always thinking and could never switch off, not even to get some shuteye.
The book was dedicated to her and its title throws her, giving her a paper cut. It’s a tale full of horror, violence, despair and deep sadness. It’s a story about a brutal and savage assault in which are family split and runoff the road by West Texan rednecks. To be honest, it’s the Jeremiad of stories yet it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in the 2010s. Over the last few years, I’ve slowly become a bit of an Amy Adams fanboy and she most recently gave a great performance in sci-fi thriller Arrival. Writer and director Tom Ford gives some masterful direction as the camera hones in on Adams’ facial expressions as she reads, often jumping in fright, and I, along with her.
As her eyes dart from consonant to vowel to whole words across the page, a vivid image is painted for us. We are watching Susan’s emotions unfold onscreen as she reads Edward’s book. Moreover, we are watching a dramatized version of the book which is being depicted through Susan’s imagination. It’s her interpretation that paints these pictures in our minds. In essence, we see what she sees and we feel what she feels, like we’ve just entered the Matrix. I somewhat feel that the fictional Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal) is based on the real life character Edward. Tony’s wife Laura Hastings is very aptly played by Isla Fisher (Now You See Me) who is often confused with Adams. It doesn’t take much for the psycho in “psycho-thriller” to kick in, since I began to feel more part of Tony’s story than Edward’s.
It only takes a short time for the intangible yet realistic world of Nocturnal Animals to become entangled with Susan’s world in her LA, I really liked book character Detective Andes (Michael Shannon). He gives the film a bit of light-hearted comedic relief but he also brings a cocktail of ruthless pragmatism and social justice. He’s a chain-smoker with a very chesty cough who has a zero tolerance attitude towards the political agendas of law enforcement. As all this is going on, we are witness to flashbacks of a twenty years younger Edward and Susan. Jurassic Park’s Laura Linney owning her short cameo as Susan’s undeniably prejudice, racist and stereotypically Texan mother. She has a great scene with Adams. At first glance, it’s impossible to notice that it’s Linney.
Not to forget to mention being a good Christian on Sundays who has the gift of insight in “the things you love about him now are the things you’ll hate in a few years.” She struck me as mother who still believes in Jim Crow and that her word is final. Laura Linney killed it and I’d like to have seen more of her. The cinematography is sensational, thanks to cinematographer Seamus Garvey. The quality left me in awe and it was if I was back in the theatre watching Doctor Strange, with my astral form watching me watch the movie. The film is dark, gritty and intelligent with influences from all over. I saw elements of Hitchcock to Lynch’s Twin Peaks and then it has the brutality and dark aura of Silence Of The Lambs and A Clockwork Orange.
There were parts of the movie that make you think “did that really just happen?” like pretty much every word that comes out of Aaron Johnson’s Ray Marcus’ mouth, or the bloodied up corpses that rival NBC’s Hannibal. This was accompanied by a beautiful score from Abel Korzeniowski, supplying me with uncanny auras reminiscent of The Birds and Psycho. “Do you ever feel like your life has turned into something you never intended?” says Susan. I think we can all relate to this. That’s what life is. It’s like a rabid dog; unpredictable, erratic and volatile. It can really dismiss you, much alike Aaron Taylor Johnson’s performance as the hellish Ray(fear reincarnate). Nocturnal Animals is a beautifully shot, and dare I say, masterpiece?
The visual-audio-cinematic cocktail takes each of our senses on a rollercoaster ride and it shows us the reason why we watch movies. We watch them to escape from reality yet we are thrown into a very dystopian reality. Nocturnal Animals is a Jeremiad and I’d say watch at your own risk. It’s grim, dark and depressing. Though, it’s ending does bring a feeling of satisfaction. Grimness aside, it has a grand ensemble cast in their prime. Adams (Man Of Steel) and Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) are truly awesome, and I’d expect a nod come Oscar season if I were them. Shannon (Midnight Special) gives a good performance in support, but the most shockingly good performance is by Johnson. To put it bluntly, he plays this ruthless sociopath to the point that he makes Ramsay Bolton look like Sansa Stark.
With all the ace performances and superb aesthetic features, Nocturnal Animals is not for the fainthearted. It’s Neon Demon meets Silence Of The Lambs entwined with the surreal auras of Twin Peaks, and the corpse count of a Hitchcock thriller.