‘Wolf’ Is More Petting Zoo Than Wild Beast
When I was young, like, unable to recall memories young, my aunt had a toaster cover that looked like a rooster. Young me would wear it like a hat and run around the house making chicken noises. While there’s photographic proof of this happening, I was fortunate enough that it was well before the advent of camera phones (or affordable, readily available video cameras for that matter).
I was also fortunate enough to outgrow this phase and realize that I was not, in fact, a chicken. It turns out, however, that for some people the belief they’re an animal is something they never grow out of – it’s called species dysphoria, and it’s at the heart of ‘Wolf,’ from director and screenwriter Nathalie Biancheri.
George MacKay stars as Jacob in director Nathalie Biancheri’s ‘Wolf,’ a Focus Features release. (Photo by Conor Horgan/Focus Features)
In ‘Wolf,’ a young man named Jacob (George MacKay) is convinced he’s a wolf living in a human’s body. Wanting to get their son the help he needs, Jacob’s parents send him off to a treatment facility that specializes in treating people afflicted with species dysphoria.
Jacob befriends the other patients, who believe themselves to be ducks, bears, parrots, German shepherds, and ponies, each at varying stages of their treatment plans.
But more intriguing than all of them is the beautiful and mysterious Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), who appears to be the longest tenured patient. The young pair quickly forms an intense bond and spends their time using Wildcat’s knowledge of the facility to roam the halls and explore the grounds, while dreaming of living life as their true selves.
Lily Rose Depp stars as Wildcat and George MacKay right stars as Jacob in director Nathalie Biancheri’s ‘Wolf,’ a Focus Features release. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
But all that glitters is not gold, as the facility is run by a man known simply as the Zookeeper (Paddy Considine) and a host of nurses and counselors that do his bidding. As the staff’s actions become more sadistic, the patients revolt, and their inner animals come to the surface.
On the surface, ‘Wolf’ sounds really interesting. And for the first half it is, due in large part to a healthy dose of intrigue (like, is this sci-fi and he really is a wolf) and the performances of MacKay and Depp. The pair truly commits and just GOES for their respective inner wolf and wildcat, with MacKay taking on an especially physically demanding role.
But then all of a sudden, like someone flipped a switch, the intrigue dies, and the story somehow simultaneously builds toward its crescendo while also quickly spiraling to a dramatic abys. An abys from which there’s no return.
Biancheri created a killer idea for story, and in all honesty it’s much closer to being good than it is awful, but once it loses its way it’s simply not strong enough to recover, despite the best efforts of its lead actors.
If you’re someone that’s interested in species dysphoria, or a fan of an uneven story wasting solid performances, ‘Wolf’ is in theaters now. For the rest of you, I’d say wait for streaming and probably until your queue runs low.
★1/2 of ★★★★★