Animal Room

Animal Room (1995)
Vanguard Films
Cast: Matthew Lillard, Neil Patrick Harris, Catherine Hicks

’Animal Room’ is one of those films where the teenaged villains are meaner than anyone than you’ve ever met in real life, and Matthew Lillard does a great job as the leader of the bad guys. The film is set in Asbury Park High in New Jersey in what is (presumably) the near future. An experimental classroom has been set up in the basement of the school for the most troubled and disruptive students. There is no teacher, just a big-screen TV from which a bald man lectures. Into this mix is thrown Arnold (Neil Patrick Harris), a bright boy who has turned to substance abuse to deal with his wretched homelife. Arnold clashes with Van Housen (Lillard) and the film revolves around their struggle. Will Arnold be able to survive his time in the ’Animal Room’ or will Van Housen and his thugs drive Arnold to violence?

’Animal Room’ has some good performances, the most noteworthy by Harris, and a strong message, that violence begets violence, but all of this is buried under sloppy filmmaking. The movie is very disjointed and events seem to occur at random. Most of the characters are merely stereotypes and we never learn what makes them tick. Still, the movie is unsettling at times, and the ending definitely packs a punch. And there is a very brief cameo by the seminal goth-punk band The Misfits. Overall, the film wants to be a modern telling of ’A Clockwork Orange’, but ends up looking like a ripoff of ’The Class of 1999.’

The Vanguard DVD of ’Animal Room’ offers a nice transfer of the film. The film is letterboxed at 1.66:1 in a presentation that is not enhanced for 16×9 television sets. The framing appears to be accurate and the picture is clear for the most part. However, the clarity of the picture does reveal some grain at times. (In one daytime shot, it looks as if a swarm of gnats is descending onto the cast.) While this isn’t necessarily a digital transfer issue, it should be noted that the lighting changes drastically within several scenes. A problem like that should have been handled during post-production.

The audio mix on the disc is a Dolby 2-channel surround which offers a nice sound arrangement. The dialogue is crisp and audible and there is plenty of surround-sound action. There are no extras on the DVD. It should be noted that the running time of 98 minutes listed on the DVD box is incorrect. Since this DVD is hardly available through traditional retail channels, you can order the title through Vanguard’s own order hotline at 1-800-218-7888.