Going to a 10pm showing of a film on your lonesome, aside from two drunk gentlemen who fall asleep a few rows behind you but mainly keep the snoring to a minimum) is something I don't do often. Attending the cinema on a weekend evening is a troublesome thought for those who want to go to the cinema in peace and after a day of looking after a 2-year old, it's fair to say I was rather tired also. With this slightly off-centre mood for going to the cinema maybe slightly affecting this (though Marc agrees with the following sentiments as shown on our latest podcast here), it is rather stunning to say that not only is Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals one of the best films of the year, I feel it also ranks up there with some of the best horror of recent times also.
Why is this a surprise? Tom Ford. Insanely successful fashion designer and fragrance maker already, he had to add being a bloody brilliant filmmaker with 2009's A Single Man, a film which Colin Firth deserved an Oscar for far more than The King's Speech, which he was successful with the following year. A Single Man is heartbreaking, gorgeous and all-round magnificent but there is nary a hint of horror to it. While filmmakers can jump around genres with aplomb, to make the jump that Ford does from A Single Man to Nocturnal Animals, and it be only his second feature, to me is staggering.
A Single Man created its own world, full of immaculate looking people and colours ranging from drab to effervescent dependent on the situation, and Nocturnal Animals does the same but here you have something entirely different. While there are fantastically tailored and beautiful people all over the place during the "real world" sections, they are cold, detached and at arm's length. Amy Adams' costuming and the production design of her home enforce the feeling that she is trapped in a gilded cage, one which we come to learn is very much of her own making and may even be a form of self-abuse to attempt to atone for sins of the past. There is an isolation here which is palpable though the story she reads through the film starts to infect this, one startling moment provoking perhaps the best jump scare seen in years but also one which says something about her character; when's the last time you could say you saw a character driven jump scare?
This is all juxtaposed against a setting which is just as harrowing though in fairness more direct in its viscera. The world of "Nocturnal Animals" the story within the film, is filled with threat, something which starts early and doesn't let up. The extraordinary sequence which gets the meat of the film's narrative going is a masterclass in tension and surely could not fail to be affecting to anyone with a family. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has likely never been better as the sociopathic menace who has an intelligence which is betrayed by his almost goofy exterior, whatever part of Gylenhall's Tom he inhabits is no place you ever want to visit. Ford's ratcheting of the tension here is a hell of a thing, you're never entirely sure of what the motivations are and when it ends there's a sense of anarchy to the whole thing, a complete absence of reason which lets you know that pretty much anything could happen in this world. Even the hard living, dedicated cop who every now and then brings in some comic relief is played by Michael Shannon, a man who you don't think of when you think of Mr Chuckles. This is all within the mind's eye of Amy Adams' Susan of course so we have an unreliable visual narrator of sorts, indeed its interesting that the facsimile of Adam's character within the story is played not by Amy Adams but Isla Fisher, but who is to say how much of this is the story "on the page" and how much is within her character? How much of the story within the film is intended as horror really? That question itself makes matters all the more unsettling.
Nocturnal Animals is an extraordinary film which pretty much demands to be seen but even if you're of a more genre than arthouse bent, you need to get it to the top of your Watchlist this week.