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Director: Ingrid Veninger
Writers: Ingrid Veninger
Starring: Aaron Poole, Joey Klein, Jacob Switzer, Hannah Cheesman, Jessica Greco, Johnathan Sousa, Emmanuel Kabongo & Sarena Parmar
Runtime: 90 min
Rating: 14A

Ingrid Veninger returns to the big screen with her third feature film, The Animal Project. A work of great consistency, the film is an experiment challenging art and acting itself.

The film tells the story of a Toronto-based theatre troupe, lead by Leo (Aaron Poole), a single father of a seventeen-year-old boy who is clearly wasting his life away (Jacob Switzer). As of late, the troupe has been feeling artistically stunted. Leo struggles to keep it all together while dealing not only with his son and his creative block, but the fact that Saul (Joey Klein), his former lover and fellow member of the troupe, seems to have lingering feelings that often manifest in unpleasant quarrels. In hopes of pushing the group forward, Leo suggests an experiment titled The Animal Project, in which the actors are to dress in costume and go about a day in their lives. Although the idea is met with hesitation, it soon sparks an interesting dynamic within the group, and they realize that the exercise may be just what they need in order to get their lives back together.

Jason (Johnathan Sousa) puts on his clown make-up in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy.

Jason (Johnathan Sousa) puts on his clown make-up in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy.

The whole cast works great together as an ensemble. Their different personalities form a group that is extremely interesting to watch, and there is chemistry not only in the group, but in the individual pairings that the film exposes. Poole’s and Switzer’s relationship as father and son is heartwarming, realistic, and completely relatable. Poole and Klein also share chemistry full of emotion, and the spectator can’t help but wish success on their relationship. The characters are charming and strangely uplifting, and they all have a humanity that makes them extremely easy with which to empathize. Veninger treats the characters with great love, and it is obvious that even though some have smaller parts than others, they have all been crafted with care.

The script is clever, intelligent, and highly entertaining. Although the film doesn’t present fantastical situations or complicated story lines, it handles everyday life with a lot of spirit. The dialogue is very well crafted and interactions between characters always seem natural. The music is simple, but it serves its purpose and it lets the story shine through. Visually, the film is nothing complicated; straightforward shots that make the contents clear are mostly what the film employs.

Pippa (Jessica Greco) makes a wish on a balloon with Alice (Hannah Cheesman) in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy.

Pippa (Jessica Greco) makes a wish on a balloon with Alice (Hannah Cheesman) in The Animal Project | Photo by John Gundy.

Although the story might seem a tad generic at first (single father struggles to control his son while trying to sort out the rest of his complicated life), the film is worth watching for the animal project itself. It makes for a visually compelling sequence that is fun and devastating all at once. Not only that, but it satisfies the strange desire of wanting to see adults running around a city dressed in costume. In addition, the Toronto landscape makes for the perfect companion to the experiment, and there are many instances in which viewers can identify popular locations if they are familiar with the city.

The Animal Project is a special film because of the emotions it transmits. It is obvious that the film was made with love, and the spectator can feel that this is a project that was created for the sake of filmmaking, not for any other purpose. The Animal Project becomes a film that leaves a lingering sense of “it’s going to be alright”. Although some may reject the notion, it is certainly refreshing to get that sort of feeling in a time when the themes in film are often of such a glum nature. By the time the film is over, The Animal Project will have had at least some sort of emotional effect on the spectator, and if a film makes one feel, then it is certainly something worth exploring.

Note: Review was done during TIFF 2013