‘We the Animals’ crafts cinematic beauty and nuance

Ryan Lueck

Distressed relationships observed in childhood can have lifelong effects, and are prominent in Jeremiah Zagar’s “We the Animals.”

Beautifully and intimately shot, “We the Animals” carefully crafts a complex and nuanced portrait of a life lived through budding identity, domestic violence and poverty. This film explores the dynamic tension of families through Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah’s (Evan Rosado) navigation of life with toxic parents.  


“We the Animals” demands self-reflection of the viewer and familiarity of growing up, and conveys these feelings through gorgeous and impressively engrossing cinematography by Zak Mulligan. Featuring shallow depths of field and a “Moonlight”-esque style of sublime imagery, the film leads with a passion and emotional intimacy rarely found in current films. 

“We the Animals” is now playing at the Lyric.

“We’re never going to escape this,” Pops (Raúl Castillo) said. A stunning moment follows this sentiment, as Pops digs a grave in their front yard, rain thundering down as he lays in it. “It’s a magic hole,” the boys conclude.

It does feel like at times, this family cannot seem to stop digging their own graves. The childlike optimism helps the film bring realization to powerful images coordinated with superb performances. This brings a whole and harmonious experience for the filmgoer, who cannot help but breathlessly crave each coming frame.

The characters exist in a realm of cigarette-butt realism, held down by the tensions of social poverty. This hinders the boys and their mother (Sheila Vand) from growing out of their cycle of struggling to make ends meet within a domestically violent and volatile existence.

Exploring budding sexual identities and learning to float in a world where it is sink-or-swim, this film is limitless in its scope as it is in its subtle complexities. Featuring intensely performed characters, nuanced writing, brilliant directing and masterclass cinematography, this film’s emotional grip leaves it as one of the most intensely satisfying movie events of the season.

Should you see it? Absolutely.

This film is more than a collection of blazing cinematography and beautiful storytelling, and is brilliantly and refreshingly representative in narrative characterizations. Featuring a nearly entire Latino cast, the performances shine and the cascading power of these performances is yet another impressive feature that sets this film apart.

Ryan Lueck can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and @ryanelueck.