By Mallory Andrews

Almost any movie featuring an animal doubles as a documentary about an animal that doesn’t know it’s in a movie—that is perhaps not the intended animating conflict of Murmur, but it’s the thought that most entered my mind most when watching the canine star of Heather Young’s docufiction first feature. Donna (Shan Macdonald) is a woman in her sixties completing a court-ordered stint of community service following a DUI charge. Serving out her sentence in an animal shelter, Donna connects with a senior dog whose advanced heart murmur matches her own. Lonely and disowned by her own children, Donna ends up taking the dog home, and soon does the same for dozens of sick and love-starved creatures she encounters in the shelter and on online adoption forums. 

Young keeps it simple, less interested in plot than in the minute details of the care and tenderness Donna gives to her growing household. The film is methodical but never plodding or unengaging, working as both a character study and a procedural documentary about the day-to-day of shelter caretaking. First-time actor Macdonald is a fascinating screen presence, well-matched by the sweet, sad menagerie of furry costars. Hug your pets, it gets rough.

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