We the Animals (4 stars)

We the Animals

Magical coming-of-age tale that follows a biracial boy as he learns to love himself

Jonah, the observant narrator of this film, the one whose vibrant and volatile working-class family life unfolds before us, is a half Puerto Rican boy living in upstate New York. As played by Evan Rosado, he wanders round wild woods with his two brothers, Manny and Joel (Isaiah Kristian and Josiah Gabriel), deciphering their body language and seeking out a visual language of his own to interpret his biracial identity and burgeoning sexuality.

Based on Justin Torres's 2011 semi-autobiographical novel, it's the narrative feature debut of director Jeremiah Zagar – known for a series of shorts and documentaries, including the Emmy nominated In a Dream. Working with writer Daniel Kitrosser, Zagar achieves something magical with an adaptation that's akin to films like Moonlight, Mustang and The Florida Project.

Gorgeously shot, primarily on 16mm, cinematographer Zak Mulligan uses the natural, sun-soaked surroundings to capture Jonah's coming-of-age and his sense of freedom before reality hits hard. As he breaks away from the tangled limbs of his brothers, with his feelings towards other boys separating him from his family, his fear of anyone finding out is beautifully depicted by imaginative hand-drawn animation and a performance imbued with rage and confusion from talented newcomer Rosado.

Viewing this world through a child's eyes, in scenes that recall Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life we catch glimpses of Jonah's mother (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night's Sheila Vand) and father (Raúl Castillo) navigating their hot-tempered relationship, with snippets of their anger almost too much to bear at times. Jonah nearly drowns in his confusion, held down by the imposing hand of masculinity, socioeconomic circumstances and his hidden secrets and shame, but Zagar brings him back to the surface for a hopeful, gloriously exhilarating ending.

Selected release from Fri 14 Jun.

We the Animals

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 1h 34min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jeremiah Zagar
  • Cast: Evan Rosado, Josiah Gabriel, Isaiah Kristian

Jonah (Rosado) is a half-Puerto Rican boy living in upstate New York, figuring out his biracial identity and burgeoning sexuality. Gorgeously shot, with a performance imbued with rage and confusion from talented newcomer Rosado, it’s a magical debut from Zagar with a gloriously exhilarating ending.