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Review: Like Animals


After the death of their mother, three sisters try to figure out how to move on with their lives.


Prior to crafting the delightful romcom short Hotter Up Close, which at the time of writing is still making its way through the film festival circuit, Leland Montgomery proved himself a storyteller of exceptional emotional depth and intelligence. Montgomery and co-writer Tom Dugdale take us on a winding road of grief as three sisters and their seemingly absentee brother struggle to cope with the death of their mother. Not only do we navigate the emotional pitfalls of siblings dealing with long-held resentments, now being dragged to the fore by their shared grief, but we are also hit with the conflict generated by the practical and issues caused by the loss of their one remaining parent.

There are elements of a mood piece as younger sister Irene (Tera McHenry) narrates the story, giving voice to the psychological uncertainty that the sisters have as to how they should feel about the life their mother lived. An ethereal and spiritual tone is weaved into the core emotional journey, which is driven by the conflict between elder sister Mary (Zoe Chao) and her LA-based brother Andy (Christopher Matias Aguila), as they clash over what will happen to their mother’s estate.

The story does well to establish a group of largely lost characters, playing with our perspective of whose side we are supposed to be on, while deftly dropping in signs that there is more than one side to the animosity between them. Strong performances from the ensemble cast ground us in their grief-stricken whirlwind while some breathtaking cinematography captures the isolation of the desert town location, which in turn plays into the desolation of the characters themselves.

There is an interesting dynamic at play in which the three sisters are all trying in some way to leave the seemingly dead-end town that they have spent their entire lives in. As it becomes clear that their fates are in the hands of their brother, who is the only one of the siblings to successfully leave the town and pursue his own life, the assignment of responsibility seems to give rise to both hope and resentment. Essentially, the only one to have left now determines if the others will be able to do the same thing. Montgomery is able to successfully guide the performances of his cast through the prism of their individual motivations, giving us a plethora of character insight in a relatively short amount of time.

On a plot level, this story is incredibly straightforward. This is less of a problem than it might otherwise be as the creative core of the film solidly establishes what is at stake for each character. Allowing for time to be spent developing multi faceted human beings ultimately provides a richer experience than a sequence of elaborate plot points attached to characters that we don’t know or care about. Being able to get into the weeds of what it means to feel loss while being lost is one of this film’s greatest strengths. The concept of this is well established by the screenplay and visually realised in fine form in order to provide an impactful emotional experience.

Studio: Leland Montgomery | Year: 2017 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 14 Mins | Suitability: Mature Cast: Christopher Matias Aguila, Liz Jenkins, Francisco San Martin, Crew: Director: Leland Montgomery | Producers: Matt MacNelly, Enrique Rico Diaz, Hind Al Basti | Writer: Leland Montgomery, Tom Dugdale

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