Movie Review: ‘Wolf’ Defies Categorization, But Delivers Impressive Performance

It’s hard to categorize and even harder to analyze, but ultimately fulfilling to see. The last of Night director Nathalie Biancheri, Wolf tells the story of a young man named Jacob (George MacKay, 1917), whose parents open the film by dropping him off at a clinic that appears to specialize in treating youngsters who believe they are various animals, with Jacob eating, sleeping and living like a wolf (and often involves him running around naked in the woods near his home). At the clinic, he is surrounded by other children and young adults who believe they are birds, spiders, dogs, horses and squirrels. The therapy they all receive involves indulging their beliefs for a time, until the sadistic head therapist (Paddy Considine, known only as The Zookeeper) breaks them from their tendencies using extreme forms of curative treatment.

Part of the fascinating quality of Wolf just watch these young actors, especially MacKay, transform their body language into that of their pet animal. I’m pretty sure real animal sounds are mixed into the voice actors when they’re at their most animalistic, but for the most part it’s all about performance, and MacKay’s wolfish moves are sometimes terrifying, gracious to others.

One night, Jacob meets a young woman named Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), and it’s unclear at first whether she works at the clinic or is a patient. She seems to have free rein at the facility, but she also thinks she’s a wildcat, a fact she prefers to keep secret from the staff. The two go out into the field at night, and she even knows where to take him where he can howl at the moon without risking getting caught. They form a strong bond, which quickly turns into deep affection. But since the zookeeper punishes all animal behavior at some point in his process, Jacob continues to act wildly at night, unbeknownst to the zookeeper, screwing up his therapy plans and angering him quite a bit as a result.

To punish Jacob for his acts of naked defiance, he is bound and gagged in a cage and treated in a way that none of the parents who sent their children to this place would find acceptable. But there comes a certain point when he must decide whether to stay with Wildcat, who is too afraid to leave the facility, or to escape and live out his foreseeable future as a wolf in the wild. I tried to tell you it was weird, but the actors of Wolf are so committed to these mostly stunning performances that it’s very easy to feel their fear, pain, and struggle without much effort.

I’m not sure director Biancheri goes so far as to draw parallels between her characters and more common examples of people feeling trapped in the wrong body, but she comes dangerously close, and I’m not entirely sure that metaphor would work, but I’m probably not the one to ask. This does not prevent the film from being less intriguing. It certainly made me wonder about people with this condition and how they are properly treated, but the movie doesn’t feel like its focus is education. At the end, Wolf is interesting because of the performances and not of the messages.

The film is currently in theaters.


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