Story of ‘species identity disorder’ might just be its own new art-house genus
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I’ve just seen Wolf , and I have questions.
Sure, the plot is straightforward. George MacKay (1918) plays Jacob, a young man who thinks he’s a wolf. His parents send him to an institution that promises to cure him, and it’s here that he falls for fellow patient Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp) while suffering the bizarre, cruel treatments of Dr. Mann (Paddy Considine). And you thought Wild Mountain Thyme was weird.
First off, species identity disorder, also known as species dysphoria, is a real thing. Basically, it’s the feeling that your body is the wrong species. And it’s not identical with furry fandom (i.e., dressing as an animal), though there are overlaps.
Writer/director Nathalie Biancheri doesn’t seem interested in delivering a realistic portrayal of the condition and its treatment – if a place like the “True You” clinic exists, part prison, part boarding school and part zoo, I’ve yet to discover it. But neither is she poking fun at anyone, although it’s a bit amusing that the patient who identifies as a bird does so by parroting everything said to her by clinic staff.
Instead, the director uses the condition as the framework for an intriguing psychological drama. You can choose to see parallels with gender dysphoria or gay conversion therapy, or you can just go along with the story of a kid who can’t quite connect with himself. Though he walks and generally talks like a human, he’s also given to howling at the moon and wandering the halls at night on all fours.
Any way you slice it, Jacob clearly feels a connection to the feline Wildcat – but can a cat and a dog make a go of it, or that just a recipe for mass hysteria? Meanwhile, the aptly named Dr. Mann spirals further from assistance and into torture, at one point trying to goad bird-girl into leaping from a second-storey window if she’s so certain she can fly.
My biggest question going into Wolf was whether this would be a straight-up horror, a comedy along the lines of Wolfcop , or even (given the fact that the wolf is named Jacob) some sort of Twilight rip-off. But it’s none of the above. With its own unique art-house identity, Wolf is a mutation that might even qualify as a new species. It’s not perfect, but it’s never boring.
Wolf opens Dec. 3 in select cinemas in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
3 stars out of 5