Do you remember the days as a child where acting was dressing up as an animal and making noises? Those days were simpler. But what if I told you there is room for that in an actual studio produced film? Focus Features has a new thriller coming your way from writer/director Nathalie Biancheri, Wolf. If a film boasts a clever or intriguing concept, that can go a long way in capturing an audience. I think saying your film is about a group of young people who are all convinced that they are specific animals goes a long way in making a “money” film. It certainly was for me!
But here is the thing, is Wolf going to capture the imagination of general audiences? First off, the actual concept here is fully realized with these young actors committing fully to those animal roles. Take those committed performances and throw them into a claustrophobic setting of an institution and serious magic happens. There is a quality antagonist in an oppressive and abusive doctor known simply as “The Zookeeper ”. But is this all enough? Biancheri’s narrative is not the most complex but that is not necessarily a bad thing. But what is disappointing is that the story never feels fully realized and you kind of just…end the movie. This film is much more of an experience than a compelling narrative.
Even if that narrative is not the most compelling, does this film at least have something to say? This is one big allegory for oppression of people for being themselves. Then you have plenty of thoughts on being who you are despite others trying to change you. The only issue is that these themes are obvious with a distinct lack subtly. You know from the start what this film is and never really rises above these important but simplistic ideas.
Does Biancheri shine with her work behind the camera? This is a sharp and striking film that is engrossing at every moment. There is an engrossing nature about her film that draws you in and keeps you there. Biancheri shows a deft ability to create tension and keep her audience on edge. There are multiple scenes that begin quite simple but gradually and effectively wind up the tension. One scene (paired with impressive performances all around) pacts a visceral punch that is hard to ignore. Fun transitions into fear and tension so precisely. Biancheri has plenty of talent in that director’s chair.
But what is really the crown jewel of this film? The performances. There is some of the best animal acting I have ever seen in this film (that might sound like a silly and facetious statement…but I am dead serious). George Mackay’s physicality is off the charts as he balances the role of conduit for the audience with being a fierce and powerful “wolf”. The way he moves and engages with the rest of the cast is mesmerizing. Lily-Rose Depp rises to the occasion as well as “Wildcat” with one intimate scene capturing the raw magnetic chemistry between these two young actors. Then you have the veteran presence of Paddy Considine that sparks fear and discomfort in every frame. He is ferocious and fiery underneath a pretentious and pious façade. Top notch villainy for the film.
Odd and intriguing but is it worth your time? With so much promise, there is a feeling that this could be a transcendent type of film but instead leans nicely into being a high-level B-movie. Intense and committed performers do wonders to elevate this blunt and straightforward script. Wolf might not be one of the best films you see this year, but it is a crazy ride worth taking.