Review: 'Nocturnal Animals' Is Going to Haunt You for Days. In a Good Way

Last night, I had knots in my stomach for two hours. They appeared a few minutes after the opening credits of Nocturnal Animals and didn't go away until I was safely out of the cinema.

Wow. What did I just watch?

Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by acclaimed fashion designer Tom Ford and starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, has premiered to mixed reviews. Some loved it, some didn't understand it, and some say they would rather watch a bad TV re-run than sit through the film ever again.

You can watch the trailer below. Post continues after video. 

I am firmly in the middle, between loving it and confusedly trying to unpack what actually happened.

You should know, there are spoilers below. Big, huge spoilers. 

So, here's the story.

Susan (Adams) is an art dealer in an unhappy marriage with the "charming" Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), whom she left her first husband for. She receives a package one day from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal), whom she hasn't seen or spoken to in 19 years. He has written a novel titled Nocturnal Animals and dedicated it to her.

From there, the film goes back and forth between Susan's life as she reads the book, the actual narrative Edward has written, and Susan's memories of their failed marriage, 19 years before.

Edward's book, which we see come to life, follows a man named Tony Hastings, also played by Gyllenhaal. Tony is trying to exact revenge on the men who murdered his wife and daughter, played by Isla Fisher and newcomer Ellie Bamber. The Tony we see in the novel is sensitive and scared at the start— something Susan used to say Edward was—but his character gets stronger and more aggressive as the plot develops, exactly as Susan wanted Edward to.

As Susan gets further into the book, she begins to realize Edward is writing about his life, which she criticized him for when they were together. In Edward's mind, Susan leaving him for Hutton was akin to her being "murdered". And with the revelation that Susan had an abortion after dumping Edward, he feels he lost his chance at a child as well.

nocturnal animals review
Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals. Photo: Focus Features

At end of the film, Edward reaches out to Susan and asks if she wants to meet. She names a time and a place, shows up at the restaurant and orders a drink. But Edward never comes.

It seemed anticlimactic to me that after all this, he just doesn't show. But it makes so much sense. It's his final act of revenge. Susan is left sitting there alone to realize both the weight of her actions, and how unhappy and unfulfilled she really is.

Tom Ford says he wanted to leave the ending open to interpretation by the viewers. So far everyone I have spoken to has a different idea of what really happened.

I was so confused, I had to discuss it immediately afterwards with someone else who had seen it. So I messaged my mom.

Me: I just saw Nocturnal Animals.

Mom: Did you work it out?

Me: Work what out?

Mom: Who was who.

Me: Oh, yes.

Mom: The final scene.

Me: I don't think it was necessary to have Isla Fisher play the wife in the novel, if it was meant to be Amy Adams. That confused me, because Jake Gyllenhaal played both characters.

Mom: But that was her projection.

Me: So why did he stay the same?

Mom: The wife and daughter were lookalikes, both with red hair. She projected him because he wrote it.

Me: Hmm okay. And what about the ending? He just didn't show up? That annoyed me.

Mom: He had no intention of turning up. He wrote the story to show her that he was strong, not weak like she always thought.

And that's really it. The movie is one big, boiling pot of revenge.

Susan left Edward in search of a better life, but now she's miserable. His success, which he has dedicated to her in the most brutal way, is his way of showing her that she was wrong about him.

nocturnal animals review
Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony Hastings in Nocturnal Animals. Photo: Focus Features

Nocturnal Animals, while confusing and haunting, is a must-see. It's jump-out-of-your-seat-and-scream frightening in parts, and bizarrely funny in others. The acting is superb, the subject matter is confronting and the art direction is phenomenal.

It's a movie people are saying you should watch twice, simply because you miss too much the first time around. And in my opinion, it's a film that will stay with you for days after you leave the cinema.

Oh, one more thing. Avoid driving through the Texan desert late at night, if you can help it. You'll understand once you see the film.