It took millions of years of evolution for homo sapiens to become the dominant species. But if other animal species had instead evolved to become intelligent bipedal beings with opposable thumbs, we might be knocked down several pegs in the food chain. This concept is explored in Baptiste Rouveure’s debut feature Anonymous Animals (originally Les Animaux Anonymes). It’s an experimental film that’s both thought-provoking and disturbing.

The roles are reversed in a series of vignettes depicting humans being treated like animals and animals acting as humans. A deer stalks the woods with a rifle. A bull herds humans like cattle in a slaughterhouse. A dog drags around a human on a leash and enters him in an underground fighting ring. As the title suggests, there are no names. It’s just a normal day in this backwards universe. The very worst of humanity is represented in these animals, acting with cruelty and total disdain for the human’s lives. The scenes take place in the countryside, on farms or in the woods, far from the city where people don’t put too much thought into where the steak on their dinner plate came from.

 

 

The animals have humanoid bodies, and only their heads are animalistic. Some heads are more convincing than others. One actor looked like he just stuck his head into a taxidermied bear. But one dog was able to open its mouth every time it barked. The camera doesn’t linger on the animals for too long, usually shooting them from behind in dark lit rooms as they go about their routine. As for the humans, they’re not in the least bit intelligent, constantly looking around, wondering where they are, helpless in every situation. Some of them attempt to escape their enclosures but are unable to outwit their oppressors. There’s one heartbreaking scene during the fight when a man-dog (human acting like a dog) runs to his dog-master for safety but is pushed away again and again.

There’s no dialogue in this movie. The humans don’t speak to each other at all. There are a few times the animals argue with each other, communicating using a series of grunts or barks and hand gestures. This works as an advantage and a disadvantage. It has great international marketability because there’s no language barrier, which explains why it has played at so many film festivals around the world. However, it’s harder to become invested as your mind wanders in the absence of dialogue.

 

“…if you own a pet, you’ll question its happiness being locked in a cage or being led around on a leash after seeing a human in its place.”

 

There’s not much of a score either, mostly a soundscape of natural white noise mixed with the occasional drone or faint strings. It gives the film a darker vibe. That left a lot of pressure on the sound designer and mixer, who definitely pulled it off. I’d be very curious as to how they recorded the animal sounds expressing different emotions appropriate for the situation at hand.

At only an hour and four minutes, Anonymous Animals drags on very slowly. Unlike an anthology, the scenes fade in and out, overlapping each other, developing at a snail’s pace. For example, the deer hunter story doesn’t really conclude until the very end, but throughout the film, we’re treated to a few seconds of the deer in his hunting jacket, rifle in hand, peering out into the wilderness for any sign of prey. The concept could have been achieved by cutting maybe 20 minutes of fat, making it a long short instead of a short feature.

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There’s no happy ending in this scenario, nor should there be. Not every film needs to be wrapped up in a nice little package. Depressing nihilistic endings seem to be the norm for French arthouse horror. If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you might feel a lot less guilty watching this. But if you own a pet, you’ll question its happiness being locked in a cage or being led around on a leash after seeing a human in its place. I’d be interested to see what other ideas Baptiste Rouveure has knocking around in his head. By stamping his name in big letters on this project, it appears he’s trying to develop a brand, with many more disturbing multiverse scenarios to come.

Anonymous Animals was screened at the Frightening Ass Film Festival on October 30th and 31st. Would you feel guilty watching this movie? Let us know over to TwitterReddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook, and get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.