Okja Review: Don’t Get Between a Girl and Her Genetically Altered Giant Pig Creature

Photo Credit:http://news.sky.com/story/netflix-film-okja-gets-famous-le-boo-at-cannes-10883848

Okja is the closest I’ve seen a film with English speaking actors get to replicating the spirit of anime in live-action. Simultaneously very dark and very silly, Bong Joon-ho’s follow up to the exceptional Snowpiercer is also a lot more of an issue film than that one is. It’s a seemingly simple story about a young girl and her pet made for the vegetarians and the vegans of the world, which is ultimately where the film feels a little too pointed. But it’s unique tone, excess of heart, and display of the reliably great filmmaking we’ve come to expect from Joon-ho all still reign supreme.

The film opens in 2007, with eccentric businesswoman Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) unleashing a new “product”—a genetically bred species of giant pigs that supposedly eat less, poop less, and taste great, that will take 10 years to mature and have been spread across the globe for a largest pig contest. That’s when Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) comes in as the young caretaker of Okja. But when her best friend is taken from her by the company, Mija finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between a big corporation and an aggressive animal rights group, led by Jay (Paul Dano).

While the first act spends most of its time hitting the basic story beats of all the other films about kids and their animals, once the sides are drawn, the drama really starts to click in a way it rarely does for this sub-genre. Dano’s compassionate performance works perfectly to balance the coldness of Swinton’s, while Jake Gyllenhaal does his best peak-Jim Carrey impression, one of the film’s most truly bizarre facets.

Okja‘s dark yet cartoonish sense of humor would make the likes of Hayao Miyazaki proud, but it’s the tightly filmed action sequences where Joon-ho’s style really sings this time around. The film is wonderfully kinetic, which only contributes to the emotion of Mija’s relationship with Okja as their situation grows more dire. Acting mostly against a giant CGI beast, Mija makes for an unwaveringly driven lead, and Seo-hyun is terrific. The film’s slightly weaker first half wouldn’t work as well without her, and the sensational second half wouldn’t soar nearly as high.

Sadly though, the film gets too bogged down in its message, making parts of the climax and resolution slightly alienating. Okja is decidedly more complex than, say, Free Willy, and it explores those complexities in ways that aren’t assaulting for most of its runtime. So some preachy beats toward the close can be partially forgiven.

In the end, Joon Ho has still created an emotional, visually arresting film, however imperfect in its execution. You’ll still be attached to Mija and her giant pig for two hours, with the film’s darkness making the it refreshingly unpredictable and tense. There’s no easy resolution here, and while that fact may be too heavy handed in its communication, it’s also one of the film’s most ambitious and fresh qualities. Okja will assuredly deliver more than you bargained for, relishing in its oddities and originality all the way through. And therein lies its success. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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