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Film Review: ‘Wolf’ is Very Serious about a Very Silly Premise

Focus Features
Focus Features

The concept for Wolf would lend itself to any number of comedic interpretations. Not only that, nine out of ten films would probably go that route with this premise. Well, Wolf is the tenth, a movie that sees the drama and tragedy instead. So, we have an independent character study, one that challenges at almost all turns. Strong acting and a genuine curiosity about where things will go next help to pull you through some of the tougher moments. To be sure, this flick won’t be for everyone. It’s too indie for most, but for those willing to get in its wavelength, you’ll find something well worth checking out.

Wolf has a lot of ingredients that don’t always come together, but watching how game the cast is does go a long way. Whether it’s the big character beats or small background moments, it’s just a way more immersive experience than expected. That’s one of the ways that this manages to succeed where, frankly, it probably should have failed.

Focus Features

Jacob (George MacKay) has an issue. He believes that he’s not a man, but a wolf. Believing he is a wolf trapped in a human body, Jacob lives like a wolf, which his family, as you might imagine, massively disapproves of. At their wits end, they send him to a clinic, hoping he can be cured of what they perceive to be a disorder. Surrounded by several other young men and women who eat and sleep, as well as act, like animals, they’re subjected to progressively harsher therapies, under the care of “The Zookeeper” (Paddy Considine). For Jacob, this is torture.

When Jacob meets the mysterious Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), things begin to change. Not only do they bond, their friendship slowly evolves into something more. Finding potential love, he sees a different path forward. Of course, this presents a challenge. Even if he wants to, can, Jacob renounce what he truly feels is is real self, even for love? The longer he remains at the clinic, and the more time he spends with Wildcat, the harder the question becomes to answer.

Focus Features

George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp are terrific here, with MacKay especially sucking you in. Depp has a weariness to her performance that’s spot on, while MacKay is just all-in. He’s captivating to watch, especially while he’s struggling with these animal impulses. Depp and MacKay also have strong chemistry, both in their more animal moments as well as the human-centric ones. Paddy Considine is a bit one-note, but his character does feel necessary to make the movie work. Supporting cast members include Senan Jennings, Fionn O’Shea, Lola Petticrew, Eileen Walsh, and more.

Filmmaker Nathalie Biancheri takes this all very seriously. Some might argue too seriously, but I think it’s the right approach. Terry Notary‘s work behind the scenes to make everyone believable is a true feather in the film’s cap. Biancheri could have paced this better, but her writing and direction all builds in concert with one another. The road has bumps, but the journey is one you should certainly embark upon.

Wolf could have been ridiculous. Frankly, the material just sounds like it would be a comedy. However, Biancheri, MacKay, and company see the human drama in this. They lean in, and despite some slow goings and an ending that doesn’t fully stick the landing, so much of this is just too fascinating not to recommend. Especially if you’ve enjoyed MacKay’s career so far, there’s tons here to bite into, performance wise. Know going in that this is art house cinema, but if you keep an open mind, it’ll be worth your time.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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