Synopsis: A man who believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body is sent to a clinic by his family where he is forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of “curative” therapies at the hands of The Zookeeper.
Stars: George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Fionn O’Shea, Eileen Walsh
Director: Nathalie Biancheri
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Learning new language about the world and the experiences people go through is one of the many benefits that come with seeing as many films as I do. I may not understand it, agree with it, or believe it but exposure to these varying viewpoints is important and vital in becoming well rounded.
All that being said, I’m not entirely sure the universe wanted me to see Wolf and after making it through the thorny flick I think I should have paid more attention to the signs. So many cosmic roadblocks popped up to stand in my way, not the least of which was a review copy that I was trying to watch through an internet link that kept freezing up, resulting in my having to watch and then re-watch large stretches of writer/director Nathalie Biancheri’s sullen and faux-ny look inside the very real experience of species dysphoria. More on that later though…
Despite my misgivings and troubles getting going with Wolf, I soldiered on like a good critic, though I truly should have heeded the call to turn around and find a way out of the woods. The woods is where we start and end, though, so let’s kick things off by saying the first images we see are of a very naked human (George MacKay, 1917) prowling through the fauna in a feral state. Like much of Wolf, the passage is seemingly random and left unexplained…the audience is obviously supposed to piece together as the film progresses that this is Jacob in the wild and he’s eventually been brought to clinic that specializes in the treatment of others that share his condition.
Species dysphoria is an experience “associated with the feeling that one’s body is of the wrong species”. So, Jacob believing himself to be a Wolf would be a prime candidate for the program the clinic offers, with graduates leaving having exorcised their thoughts of being an animal. Jacob arrives and is integrated with other patients that believe themselves to be, among others, a German Shepherd, a parrot, a squirrel, and a duck. Often, these species will react toward each other like they would in the wild, keeping the clinic staff busy. At first, Jacob doesn’t know what to make of the situation and holds back…much like a wolf would in new surroundings.
When Jacob is befriended by a girl who works at the clinic and is also a patient that thinks she’s a wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp, Silent Night), they form a bond that goes beyond the personal and into the primal. Watching others in their program fail and succeed, Jacob and Wildcat realize they’ll never conform to the clinic’s methods and hatch a plan to break out from under the tyranny of the head of the department, known as The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine, Macbeth). However, with Jacob’s will being tested by those in authority, do they both have the strength to flee and live life on their own, as they really are?
It’s clear there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface of the screenplay Biancheri has written but it’s sorely lacking from clarity onscreen. Instead, we have weird sequences of “therapy” that come off more like tortuous abuse scenes between doctor and patient. You can’t ever tell if Biancheri is playing some scenes for comedic effect to show how ridiculous those in power are to those that are different or if the goal is to expose prejudice in the medical profession toward people who have this condition. I don’t doubt this exists and that the treatment is specialized, but what’s on display here comes off like a badly told joke.
It’s a shame that MacKay has taken so much time with the physicality the role demands because it’s sort of wasted in the entirety of Biancheri’s awkward and artsy-fartsy film. Once we started getting patients dressing up like their, forgive the co-opted term, “spirit” animal, the movie began to tank for me because it’s too silly watching someone whine and pant like a dog. MacKay’s physical transformation in Wolf is incredible but it can’t carry the picture, even if his acting is the highlight of the piece. Rose-Depp is less successful in a role that is less interesting all around – even when she’s perched and hissing at others it comes off as the overly dramatic girl at a party wanting to get attention. That’s what many of the patients in Wolf come off as, actually. Desperate for attention instead of dependent on treatment.