We can all pretty much agree that if the time comes to mount a “serious” new werewolf movie — or reboot the twinkly “Twilight” franchise — that George MacKay’s your guy.
The “1917” star got into spectacular shape, took his lessons with a movement coach seriously and if there’s ever been a human special effect more convincing as Canis lupus than MacKay, I’ve not seen her. Or him.
So you’ve got this documentary-real realization of “a boy who thinks he’s a wolf” at the heart of “Wolf,” the debut fictional feature of Nathalie Biancheri. And there’s a vague and poorly-realized satiric point of it all — sending such a young man to join other young men, and women, who think they’re horses, parrots, a lion, a German shepherd (That’s AlSAtion to you.) and a duck in an aversion/conversion therapy clinic.
There’s the point of it, the satiric target with the bullseye wr large. And while the picture misses that target, by and large, there’s still a whiff of “If this had been a hit, they’d be adding letters to the ever-lengthening acronym” of gender spectrum/body “dysphoria. Because God forbid somebody should feel left out, feel “unseen.”
I found it helpful to lie back and think of J.K. Rowling as young Jacob (MacKay) is put under the care of Dr. Mann (Paddy Considine) and his “good cop” colleague (Eileen Walsh) at some remote British compound where such special cases gather for therapy that includes dancing “like normal people” and cages, restraints and torture.
Rowling, who’s stuck her foot in it repeatedly over her complaints about the shifting nature of female gender identity and “trans-phobia” would appreciate the ironic Next Frontier on what legitimate critics and intolerant cranks alike figure is “the next logical step” in how a person “identifies.” TheHarry Potter novelist might approve of this film, whose “hero” meets a “wildcat” (Lily-Rose Depp) who makes him consider giving it all up for love, and whose villain (Considine) is a classic “compassionate in public, sadistic in private” doctor offering “treatment” to people so afflicted.
There’s a joke about “Am I allowed to say ‘afflicted’ about this now? Because I was when I started writing this review.
MacKay’s Jakob gets into a classic “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” war of wills with the unbending Dr. Mann. Depp’s Wildcat turns into the classic “delusions she’ll give up for love” as we get a sense that one of them really believes what he’s doing, and others locked in there are maybe a little less committed.
For Jakob, “It’s not about surviving, it’s about surviving as me.”
MacKay’s immersion in the character is a fascinating thing to behold, even if the Players around him are “types” and “tropes,” and the revelations about them pro forma.
Biancheri keeps her film unnerving and anxious via the judicious use of extreme close-ups, hand-help sequences and off-in-the-head editing.
Considine’s “I’ll deal with it,” hands-on can-do doctor is the most interesting character in the piece, someone so sure of himself he knows that his round patients will fit in whatever square holes he shoves them into.
The many scenes involving therapy, cruel punishment, acceptance and sexual titillation and are mostly showcases for MacKay’s genre-busting turn as a guy who’s taken a great improv “character” entirely too far.
“Wolf” is thought-provoking, to be sure. And it makes you wonder if the filmmaker is about of bounds for holding satiric attitudes that were fine when she started shooting and might seem dated and inflexible a few years later.
I found the whole thing more tiresome than intriguing, and wouldn’t recommend it unless you threatened me with being locked in a cage with MacKay in character. Now THAT would be scary.
Rating: R for some abusive behavior, sexuality, nudity and language (profanity)
Cast: George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Mary Lou McCarthy and Eileen Walsh
Credits: Scripted and directed by Nathalie Biancheri. A Focus Features release.
Running time: 1:39