'Wolf' review: All bark and no bite
Courtesy of Focus Features
You likely won’t see a more strange and fascinating train wreck this year than writer/director Nathalie Biancheri’s “Wolf.” While the abstract nature of the screenplay and George MacKay’s wild (pun intended) performance certainly earn style points, everything about “Wolf” feels stagnant. Interesting ideas surrounding dissociative individuals who identity as animals never gains transaction nor does our relation to the characters. “Wolf” is an empty vessel trying desperately to say something, anything, about mental illness and trauma, but this is a vehicle beyond salvation and the more Biancheri embarks from reality, the messier and unhinged the movie becomes.
The primary focus of “Wolf” is an institution where a certain type of conversion therapy surrounding “species dysphoria” takes place. Parents drop off their child who can’t stop meowing, oinking, or, in Jacob’s case, howling in an effort to try and reprogram and reacclimate them into society. Played with a fierce edge by MacKay (“1917”), Jacob seems the most normal at first, staying collected while his peers attempt to jump out windows (because they’re either birds or chickens who want to fly the coop). You can tell he wants normality despite the creature inside of him eating away at his soul. Jacob’s road to recovery hits a roadblock when he meets Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), a longtime mainstay of the facility who encourages him to sneak out after dark and rendezvous in the corridors. They strike up a romantic courtship and trouble ensues.
Except the romance never arises to a level of investment, but existence. Biancheri is more fascinated with exploring the controversial methods of the institution than digging deeper into how these people ended up where they are. It’s hard to stay connected when the movie can’t make an argument for itself and the detachment intensifies when it flirts with Stockholm Syndrome. It creates a frustrating experience for as quickly as the movie reels you in, another merciless detour sinks the ship. So close and yet so far.
Despite some good and emotive work from Depp and MacKay, “Wolf” ultimately doesn’t know how to utilize them, leaving them stranded for a bizarre 96-minute venture where they howl at the moon and wander around the screen in the hopes of finding stability. They never do as the screenplay maintains its wobbly foundation and “Wolf” can’t overcome an erratic rhythm. Deep down, there’s something worth discussing and it occasionally touches the surface around how disgusting conversion camps are, but “Wolf'' doesn't know how to articulate those thoughts. It’s all bark and no bite.
WOLF is now playing in theaters.