Nocturnal Animals is the latest feature to be directed by acclaimed film-maker Tom Ford following the release of his debut A Single Man in 2009. The two films are similar in that they are both adapted from novels, written by Christopher Isherwood in the case of A Single Man while Nocturnal Animals is based on a novel by Austin Wright; however more importantly both of these films are about the collapse of a constructed identity and the distinguishing characteristics that we create for ourselves.
The plot of Nocturnal Animals is split between two separate, but crucially connected narratives. The first is that of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a gallery-owner who is trapped in a dissatisfying marriage to unfaithful husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) whom she married following the collapse of her marriage with aspiring writer Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). While her husband is away on business Susan receives a mysterious package from Ed, a manuscript of his latest novel “Nocturnal Animals”, lovingly entitled after a nickname that Ed used to refer to Susan. The novel is the violent tale of Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who embarks on a trail of revenge after his family is brutally raped and murdered by a group of criminals. It is this story that takes the place of the secondary narrative of Nocturnal Animals. As Susan continues to read the novel she begins to notice similarities between the narrative of the novel and the events that led to the collapse of her marriage to Ed, causing her sleep-deprived brain to blur the lines of fiction and reality.
Director Tom Ford has a background in fashion design, and much like a fashion show Nocturnal Animals is sometimes captivating, other times infuriating, but is never boring or uneventful. There is enough of a distinction in tone between the two narratives to capture your attention, even if the modern Western style of the secondary story was more interesting to me as a viewer. This is not to say that the story of the collapse of Ed and Susan’s relationship is not interesting, in fact the final moment of this narrative is one of the bleakest, but none-the-less enjoyable endings in recent years; however it does contain a few mis-steps, most notably the secondary characters who are not given enough to do, and a silly jump-scare moment involving a mobile phone that only serves to cheapen the tension that has built up.
If you are a fan of dark comedy, which I am a huge admirer of, then there is a lot to enjoy in Nocturnal Animals. It is not a film that is going to appeal to everyone, I was certainly aware of a few groans from the audience as the screen faded to black (in fact it would be a lie to suggest that a similar noise did not escape my lips), but the more I mulled over the final image of the film, the longer the devilish grin remained on my face.