Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Chilling, haunting, and complex are the words I would use to describe Nocturnal Animals. I was not sure what to expect when I bought a ticket to see this film, but I knew it was going to be a thriller. The trailer does not give a clear cut idea of what the film is about, but after seeing it, I can see why conveying the concept in the trailer would be difficult. Plus, it is the kind of film where less prior knowledge about the plot is better.

Nocturnal Animals will be widely released to the U.S. on December 9th, but I was lucky to live in one of the regions where it was made available early. It is adapted and directed by Tom Ford, the famous designer, making this his second feature film. The designer’s pristine touch and taste is evident in this film, which adds to the overall stunning production. I really liked the film and was completely enthralled by it, but it is not for everyone.

Adapted from the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals exhibits a story within a story. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a Los Angeles art gallery owner who is very unhappy with her current situation in life. While her apathetic husband is away, Susan receives a novel from her estranged ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). They have been divorced for twenty years, but he decided to send her his latest work in order to get her feedback. Curiosity gets the best of Susan, and she begins reading it. This is the first story. The second story is the novel come-to-life, which takes place in West Texas. It describes the journey of a man, Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whose life turns upside down when a family trip goes fatally awry. The powerful and agonizing narrative prompts Susan to question her first marriage and the terrible mistakes she made. She is haunted by the dark content of the emotional novel, which serves as an ode to the hate and pain Sheffield has suffered since their divorce. Oh, bitter revenge.

“Do you think your life has turned into something you never intended?”

Tom Ford and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, styled Nocturnal Animals perfectly. The first story, Susan’s perspective, takes place in Los Angeles. The shots are cold but sophisticated, with lots of red, white, and black. For the real-life novel, which takes place in West Texas, a more western-styled approach is taken with the shots. The colors are natural but prominent. The meticulousness of the camera work makes the film so visually appealing. Throughout Nocturnal Animals, I felt a Hitchcockian vibe. There is a profound element of suspense in the plot, but it is aided by the soundtrack which sounds similar to the one used in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The score, composed by Abel Korzeniowski, plays with the psychological state of the viewer as it becomes intense during apprehensive situations.

The greatest part of this film was the acting. Every actor gives an incredible performance, which makes the story even more compelling. Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays two different characters, is so good at baring his raw emotion. He is forced to portray a sensitive and charming Edward Sheffield as well as a grieving and depressed Tony Hastings. Gyllenhaal does both flawlessly. Honestly, I think he deserves at least a nomination from The Academy for this performance. Inside the novel, there are several other characters. Michael Shannon plays the police officer, Bobby Andes, who helps Tony Hastings after the horrific incident that took place during Hasting’s family trip. Shannon does a fantastic job of playing a stereotypical West Texas officer who is not afraid to bend the rules. His character helps Hastings track down the men responsible, one of them being Ray Marcus, who is portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Johnson nails the part of an evil and corrupted criminal. Amy Adams has the role of a very complicated person. Susan Morrow seems to be riding high, but she suffers from many conflicts, both internally and with her current husband. Adams pulls this role off very well as she creates a distant and cynical persona. Ultimately, her character becomes vulnerable because of the deplorable mistakes she made in her past.

As an aspiring filmmaker, I became so jealous of the storyline. Nocturnal Animals is one of those plots that I wish I had thought of or adapted myself. It is so cleverly coated with the theme of revenge. The imagery and metaphors throughout the thrilling film connect to the audience in an impactful way. As I was watching the film, I was curious to see how the “film within a film” would tie together, but Tom Ford manages to pull it off. The devastating and abrupt ending might leave viewers wanting more, but then the tale of revenge would not be as cruel. The audience is forced to deal with many emotions that are unsolved. I left the theater feeling unsettled but reflective. Nocturnal Animals is a true piece of art.

I recommend this film if you are a fan of Hitchcock or that type of genre. It is not for everyone because some of the plot points do become very dark and slightly scary. But the acting, the score, and the story make it well worth the watch.

Nocturnal Animals is rated R for violence, language, and nudity (in an art gallery). 

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  1. Joan Ezell · December 4, 2016

    Great review, Catherine!! I’m not sure I want to see such a dark film but your well-written description has piqued my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thembmblogcom · January 8, 2017

    Wonderful review, loved this movie with all my heart. Very well-directed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jwforeva · January 12, 2017

    A wonderful review πŸ™‚ Sorry for the late comment Catherine 😦 I love how you said it was chilling and leaves you dealing with emotions that are unresolved. I thought about the film again and found several plot lines that became ambiguous the more I thought about it. What do you think about the scene where she supposedly aborted her baby…and who is that girl she’s talking to? Is she real or fake? A fellow blogger friend of mine also brought up the point of Michael Shannon’s character and what exactly does he represent? Would love to hear your thoughts on these πŸ™‚ Keep up the great work Catherine!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Catherine Harpold · January 14, 2017

      Thank you!! I honestly think Tom Ford left so many aspects up to interpretation by the audience. I think Michael Shannon’s character may have pushed Jake Gyllenhaal’s character to become a “strong man,” and then once Jake had the courage to kill someone, Shannon left. I’m not sure about the whole abortion scene. I’d have to rewatch it to get a better idea, but sadly they took it out of theaters in my area. I loved loved the story of the film!

      Liked by 1 person

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