As a Dane I hate to say it, but most Danish movies are pretty bad. And what's perhaps even worse: a lot of Danish (and now also international) movie critics still give these movies positive reviews. This is certainly the case with this movie, which, while perhaps not especially bad, is certainly not especially good, either. But hey, Danish movies and TV shows are in vogue these days. With enough support and praise, these products of Denmark might well begin to get better in due course.
"When Animals Dream" is about a provincial fishing village, where a 19-year-old girl is beginning to find out about her mother's strange disease, which necessitates keeping the mother sedated in a wheelchair like a vegetable. The girl, Marie, has inherited the disease, and starts very (very) slowly turning into a werewolf. And SHE won't be sedated.
Sonia Suhl, a new young actress, is good as Marie, and a very good fit to play the daughter of Sonja Richter, who plays the mother. Lars Mikkelsen as the father is also fine. But the movie as a whole is slow-moving and laconic, giving too few clues about when and why things happen, and while well-produced in some ways, it is too obviously low-budget in others. The rest of the cast are not well-developed.
Now, the great stable of Danish film-making, which almost always ensures a project being financially supported by the Danish Film Institute, is social realism. This movie is stuffed with it, as well, and hasn't got that much werewolf action in it, which is a pity. If you're a genre fan, it's a little bit yawnsville. Or a lot.
There are two ways to interpret the movie. One is that Marie's turning into a werewolf represents a coming-of-age journey and sexual awakening. That's how mainstream critics understand this movie.
However, if you look at the movie in terms of the fantastic genre (which I believe is much more proper in this case), the artistic twist is that the werewolf represents true and beautiful human nature, which is being destroyed and actively suppressed in provincial dumps populated by repressed, conservative bigots. All things considered, though (such as how powerful the movie is, or rather, isn't), this is not a particularly original or progressive message, but simply a moderate one.
Sadly, even though I see a dimension to the movie that most of the gushing professional critics (that I've read so far) apparently do not, this is in my view still not a movie that goes much beyond tedious mediocrity. The story is too small, has too little to say and doesn't add anything substantially new to the genre. It has all the typical hallmarks of Danish movies, perhaps best exemplified by the sparse, ill-at-ease and artificial dialogue which sounds completely unnatural. Foreign audiences should be thankful that this is not apparent to them. Denmark is a small country, and we are so deeply suffused with Anglo-American culture that our own language is becoming unbearably stilted, especially in scripted drama.
Having said this, one must applaud the effort to make a werewolf movie in the first place, and while failing to arouse much excitement in this viewer, it's not a complete failure. Perhaps this director's next movie will be more interesting.
I rate "When Animals Dream" 6 stars out of 10, although parts of me incline more towards 5.