Chicago is no stranger to making guest appearances in our favorite films. But despite our immense pool of talent, I’ve always felt Chicago’s portrayal is secondary and impersonal; like it’s represented as a playground when, really, it’s a Narnia. We see this in Spike Lee’s ‘Chiraq’ and Showtime’s ‘Shameless.’ Whether you enjoy these works or not, they both largely use Chicago, without really knowing it or knowing us.
Just under two weeks ago when the trailer dropped for Remsy Atassi’s upcoming feature film, Bad Animal, buzz and excitement spread through Chicago like wildfire- or in our case- like 4 feet of relentless snow and freezing temperatures. Star-studded with rising Chicago artists, actors, and musicians, Bad Animal is a love story within the Chicago music scene that brings to question the consequence of fame.
When Atassi was writing the story, he wanted to portray this moment that was over, stylistically. Atassi likes playing around with themes of agency and what happens after people act, driven by their own spirit. Following suit, most of the film actually takes place during a pivotal, life-changing day for rapper/singer, Sembré (played by Mykele Deville). Through Atassi’s non linear storytelling, contrasting the “then and now” of Sembré’s relationship with fellow musician Marlene (played by Rivkah Reyes), we get this sense that soon, everything may change. The tone mimics the internal battle artists experience on the daily, while offering warm and sentimental visuals to combat that discomfort. Add in the intoxicating and genuine chemistry between Sembré and Marlene; we will surely be in our feels for this one.
What became ironic, and less in Atassi and his team’s control, was the timing of this film. As Bad Animal finished production, the team had no idea just how nostalgic the film would be due to Covid. Now, the film holds double the weight. We are already grieving the loss of our music scene, being out and about, dating and finding love. Bad Animal illuminates this but we can find comfort in watching something so real and close to home. Hitting us at a time when we need it the most, Bad Animal is a true indie and true Chicago. Whether you hear your pal rapping on the soundtrack, or you relate to the crushing weight of fame and “making it,” or you just love seeing your city represented in its true light, Bad Animal should be on your radar.
Remsy Atassi was attuned to filmmaking from an early age. He grew up in Northwest Ohio and moved to Chicago, attending Loyola College. Atassi went on to direct and produce various commercial work, short films, and music videos. A pivotal part of his career was founding Emulsion Lab alongside his friend and creative partner, Sean Kelly. Emulsion Lab helped Atassi define his own role in storytelling as he racked up countless hours with musicians and creatives. Feeling like he really saw and understood Chicago’s music scene and what makes Chicago energy special, he started developing the Bad Animal story. The soundtrack was brilliantly woven together with music from exclusively Chicago artists, including Malci, the Palmer Squares, Pixel Grip, and Chris Crack. I can’t think of anything more DIY Chicago than creating a musical character who’s persona and fictional discography is made by a collaboration of real Chicago musicians.
The trailer had me absolutely sold, but getting to know Remsy and hearing how his vision came to life gave me butterflies. I and many other Chicagoans will be counting down the minutes for Bad Animal’s release as well as Atassi’s following work.
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