Not to be confused with Fantastic Beasts, Nocturnal Animals is a new adaptation of the Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan. I see why they changed the title.
Written and directed by Tom Ford, this could hardly be further from the elegant drama of A Single Man. It starts out as a stylish piece about miserable gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams), but when she starts to read her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) novel, we are confronted with a brutal story-within-a-story. It feels as though the polished floors of Susan’s bourgeois lifestyle have fallen out from under her, as she slips into Edward’s threatening tale of violence and revenge.
A fashion designer before he made movies, Nocturnal Animals sees Ford on devastating form. He sets up an insipid world with beautiful people and blue eyes everywhere, before totally destroying it in some of the most distressing cinematic scenes I’ve seen this year (Suicide Squad notwithstanding).
This is essentially a horror film made by a fashion designer. Ford has such a tight grasp on atmosphere that you’d think he’d been making horror films his entire career. Maybe the fashion industry is the perfect training ground. His approach is nihilistic, cruel even, but this is a strong example of how to handle sadistic material. There are moments in this where I forgot to breathe; there are moments in The Girl on the Train where I simply didn’t feel like it.
The novel sequences make up an impressive crime picture in their own right. But combined with the dramatic framework, and smartly edited by Joan Sobel, the film becomes an absorbingly twisted piece of work. The performances also impress across the board. With Arrival landing alongside, Adams continues to go from strength to strength, as do Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon in a proper Michael Shannon role. This is the best thing he’s done since not being in Batman v Superman.
Nocturnal Animals is an intense, surprising and unnerving viewing experience, proving Ford a great stylist capable of handling moments of wicked humour and sheer terror. Tom Ford, a genre filmmaker… Next you’ll be telling me Taika Waititi is making a Marvel movie.