Animal Room: The Forgotten Film of the 90’s

Animal Room: The Forgotten Film of the 90s

Marisa Linke, Reporter

Animal Room is a controversial take on the violence of adolescence. Starring the young faces of Matthew Lillard and Neil Patrick Harris, this film follows a tormented boy and the ones who torment him.

There are arguably two main characters: Arnold Mosk, a drug-addicted teen played by Harris, and Doug Van Housen, a sociopathic bully played by Lillard. Two sides of the same coin, these boys each portray a different side to teenage brutality.

Arnold is antagonized. He is pushed around by Doug and his goons before he eventually snaps. Doug is compulsive. He has been thrust into the whirlwind of anger from a young age; to him, it is in his blood.

Together, they are the physical embodiment of nurture versus nature.

This is what Animal Room does: it exaggerates the social issues surrounding teenagers until they take physical form. It’s because of this that it has been commonly compared to A Clockwork Orange, a satirical novel from the 60’s that follows a grisly teen gang leader and his painful depletion.

Alex, the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, and Doug Van Housen are the comparable link between these two stories.

The title ‘Animal Room’ refers to the program that both Arnold and Doug are a part of. This program was initially created to harbor all of the ‘problem’ kids and separate them from the remaining student body. The ‘animal room’ itself is the equivalent of the dystopian society of A Clockwork Orange. 

This corrupted program is essentially the corruption of society, and Doug is the one who rules. He is the blight.

The first half of the movie is relatively simple; sadistic peers pester Arnold. The turning point is when Doug delivers his monologue about the Book of Job to Arnold. This scene changes the tone of Animal Room, and it may even be the first time the audience realizes that Doug is more than just a kid overflowing with teen angst.

Doug’s speech essentially explains the religious story of a man named Job. “This guy had it all: he was wealthy, he was upright, he feared God, he shunned evil,” he says, before going on to describe how all of that was taken away from him. The story ends with Job never succumbing to devilish urges, and in turn, Doug ends up sounding far more erratic than he initially did when he started.

Lillard delivers his spellbinding monologue.

Arnold is Job. Doug is the evil trying to corrupt him, but it hasn’t been working. It’s because of this that Doug probably resents Arnold so much: Arnold still hasn’t folded. The audience learns that Doug has also been mistreated throughout the entirety of his life, in methods a bit too grotesque to mention. He was Job once, and he succumbed. So Doug finishes with the powerful, “Here’s my question to you, Arnie Mosk…who do you curse?”

From here, Arnold derails. Doug has become the image of a rotting corpse to him, and he’s snapped. Arnold loosely plots to kill Doug, though it doesn’t work and he is the one to end up in the hospital. When Doug faces off against Arnold’s estranged friend, it is then that unexpected outcomes fight against him.

Not much can be said here, but the story ends off with an ambiguous finale. It closes in with a shot of Doug and his complete crew walking down the hallway of their school. However, it cuts to only three members of the gang remaining, staring off into the ocean. There are only three of them left; Doug is dead, his girlfriend had left him, and one of their earlier members was shot by a grieving father. Arnold wakes up in the hospital, but this isn’t explicitly shown.

The remainder of Doug’s gang.

And it ends.

I think this movie has some really amazing parts, but it may also come across as too artsy or confusing for other audiences. It was a low-budget piece with a lot of passion coming from the cast and crew, but it all ended up moot when it didn’t gain a following. This film is extremely underground, and it’s rare to even see it discussed. It’s difficult to find, but there is an upload on Vimeo that will do the job.

This movie isn’t for everyone, and to some may come across as disturbing, but it’s certainly worth a watch.