My pulse rate immediately jumped during the first scene of Curt Johnson's documentary Your Mommy Kills Animals. A woman wearing a fur coat is brutally assaulted. I breathed a sigh of relief to see that it was "only" a commercial, but before my blood could settle, the next scene shows a dog being even more brutally assaulted. That footage, sadly, is real, allowing no lowering of the blood pressure.

And so it goes throughout the film. If, like me, you didn't know beforehand the difference between animal rights, animal liberation, and animal welfare, you certainly will by the time the end credits roll. Far beyond a simple educational primer, though, the doc drops you in the middle of a very contentious issue and pushes every hot button imaginable. You're simply not allowed to not react. I found my emotions rolling between heated anger and utter disgust, yet never felt manipulated by the film itself. Instead, director Johnson presents opposing viewpoints in a fairly evenhanded fashion. The film is not entirely without its own bias -- which becomes more apparent upon a second viewing -- but you're allowed to draw your own conclusions without feeling like the filmmakers are shoving you into a predetermined corner.

The basic framing device is the trial of the so-called "SHAC 7," a group of six animal rights activists accused of violating federal anti-terrorism laws by encouraging direct action protests on their web site. The group was formed as part of a worldwide campaign to stop animal testing at the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory -- really, to shut down the company. Two members are interviewed, and in their appearances, interspersed throughout the film, they appear calm, kind, peaceful and entirely reasonable. How could they pose any kind of threat?