12th Sep2018

‘American Animals’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk, Chas Allen, Betty Jean Gooch | Written and Directed by Bart Layton


A few months ago in the midst of the turmoil that is Film Twitter, a question was asked: “What is the quintessential American film?” Inevitably the onslaught of answers served to be intriguing, after much thought I believe in 2018 alone we have had two. The first being Scott Cooper’s devastatingly captivating and stoic western Hostiles. The second is Bart Layton’s devastating, traumatic dramatic/documentarian feature American Animals. The latter is a chaotic onslaught of horrifying consequence with the prompting of such a crime a varied and interesting delve into the white privileged psyche.

Layton utilises both a dramatic feature narrative threaded with a series of documentarian interviews with the real culprits of the crime. In doing so all rules and restrictions upon narrative are dropped and something far more vivid, intoxicating and vulnerable comes to the forefront. A spectacle of the absurd and slightly avant-garde progress and leads this utterly outrageously perplexing story to the slightly new ground of the outsider and the limitations of the conventional genre are lifted. Both parallel narratives are weaved together in devastating and fascinating unison. Openly questioning, contradicting and highlighting truth and white lies of conjecture.

American Animals highlights the fragmented truth of blind loyalty, self-righteous ego and lust. The question of why? is brought to the forefront of discussion towards the climax of the film; and even after 15 years after the crime was initially committed, the reasoning is as blurred as it was on the conception and execution of the said event. Not one of the four culprits brings a reasoning to their behaviour, aside from the form of utter regret. It is this bizarre nature and prompting of such an act from four men that live a life of such freedom and possibility, that creates a form of trauma in the audiences consciousness after hearing the regrets and devastation caused on that day. Is it the result of closeted white American suburbia? Or the result of an empty void of weighted expectations? Perhaps the reasoning is as lost to them as it is lost on the victims and witnesses, from that day still to this moment. The investigation into motives creates a fascinating spectrum of ideology. Something that will create hours upon hours of discussion and torment.

The film itself wouldn’t have operated remotely as successful without the outstanding screenplay from the director and writer Bart Layton, who serves up a charismatic and thrilling expose of character. The exploration and development are excessive, but also stoic and resistant to formulate an overall opinion, ultimately leaving the audience with far more questions than answers. A terrific sign of a filmmaker who wants to evoke rather than serve, with a question mark rather than a full stop. The cast is exceptional. Evan Peters is remarkable at playing such emotionally diverse characters with such vibrant intensity and conviction. It is the main draw and ultimately possible red flag for a film that wants to just about bridging the gap between informative and exploitation. Thankfully falling in a middle ground of sorts with Peters’ role as Warren Lipka landing with a engaging devilish charm.


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