I wasn’t going to write this trip up. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I walked down for a thriller with Amy Adams. I knew little more than that going in. I would say that you shouldn’t go in knowing nothing about it. Nocturnal Animals is probably one of the most intense and staying experiences for me this year. Tom Ford has devised something surprisingly simple, layered, stylistic, and with real staying power as a many complex questions remain unanswered when you leave the cinema.
Susan (Amy Adams), is part of the elite art exhibitionist world. Nocturnal Animals opens with a slow credits sequence, over images of obese, older, naked women dancing suggestively. I want to be careful to point out that what I’ve written there is not meant to be derogatory to these plus-sized women, but the aggressively close close-ups on the bouncing wrinkles and flab instantly makes most of the audience uncomfortable. It being a repetitive and slow opening credits sequence, I look around. Everyone was looking around the room. Its a striking sequence, and immeadiately grabs everyone’s attention as well as making parties of cinema-goers feel like they can talk and ask questions; the film giving its audience permission to discuss. Once we’ve seen this exhibition of exhibitionism, the elitist status of Susan and Hutton (Armie Hammer), with whom she has a troubled marriage as he has realised he is homosexual, obviously something difficult for Susan to deal with.
She then receives a package from an ex, Edward; the manuscript of a novel, which he dedicates to her. The novel depicts a horrifying incident late on the roads of Texas in the dead of the night, which leads to devastation for the novel’s protagonist, Tony. Both Edward and Tony are played by Jake Gyllenhaal, in a double-performance which I think should be in the running this coming awards-season for best-actor. Tony ends up on a revenge mission with Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), in this fictional world within, and a disturbing tale exploring the psyche Edward slowly unfolds through Susan’s reading. A third strand of the story is unravelled through the flashbacks to how her relationship with Edward is shown to us, but in spikes of tension, often interlacing with Edward’s fictionalised self’s woes.
It sounds complicated, but the two hours are so speedy and the three stands are defined, but carefully merged events. With outstanding cinematography from Seamus McGarthy (of Avengers, Anna Karenina, and Fifty Shades of Gray fame), the thriller constantly surprises its audience, aware that most of the film is footage of Amy Adams reacting to a book.
I would say before going in, major trigger warnings for any rape-survivors, as real darkness comes through the visions of Edward’s novel, and exactly why he dedicates such a Clockwork-Orange style horror to Susan is open to interpretation, but it is violent, and upsettingly gripping. I was glad that the nightmare ended, whilst desperate for more of this story to happen to understand the truth, but then, you don’t always find out everyone’s secrets.