(eyeforfilm) Soul Of A Beast (2021) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
There's no doubting the ambition of the latest film from Swiss director Lorenz Merz, which in an early sequence involving a mescaline trip and and a trip to the zoo allows a crack in the sky to appear between the real world and fantasy as it explores the positive and negative emotions and pressures experienced by teenage dad Gabriel (Pablo Caprez). The beasts include an escaped giraffe and a pair of big cats but, as you might expect, it's Gabriel's inner psyche that is really on the prowl - as the film puts it, "everything a lonely child has is imagination".
In truth, Gabriel is still closer to childhood than to the adulthood that is sitting loosely about him, even though he's looking after his young son Jamie (Art Blacca), merely cloaking the sort of risk-taking attitude that is the kingdom of the young. While Gabriel's paternal instinct is evident - in stark contrast to Jamie's mum, rich kid Zoe (Luna Wedler) - he remains drawn to the devil-may-care antics of his friend Joel (Tonatiuh Radzi) as he is pulled on his skateboard alongside Joel's motorbike, running red lights for the rush.
That "crack in the sky" is specifically referenced by a Japanese narrator, whose samurai-style observations are stitched through this narrative that though it has a near-documentary feel in places dances continually on the edge of unreal. The catalyst for confusion is Corey (Ella Rumpf), Joel's girlfriend but, as we already know, those sorts of red lights don't stop Gabriel.
Merz creates a space where emotions run riot, especially in the neon lights of night, the 4:3 aspect ratio letting each of the characters' faces fill the frame with an intensity that matches the colour scheme. Worlds are colliding, not just those of David Lynch and the Dardennes but love and loss, responsibility and rebellion. Gabriel is going where the wild things are, his experience of reality - and our unreliable window to his world - as much shaped by childhood stories of samurais and wicked stepmothers (here epitomised perhaps just a little too oddly by Zoe's mum, played by Lolita Chammah) as it is by the harsh realities of parenthood and mortality he is facing. The trippy experience of all of this is, by its nature, unwieldy and likely to prove too heady for some but when it comes to the feel of the thing, Merz delivers a rush.