Coming to theatres from writer/director Nathalie Biancheri and Focus Features is the story of the struggle being yourself, even if yourself is a WOLF.
Jacob (George MacKay) is a young man with species dysphoria, an illness that human beings have when they believe they are an animal trapped in a human body. Jacob believes he is a wolf, so his distraught mother and father take him to a clinic to get help.
Immediately Jacob comes into contact with others like him. Young people who are birds, horses, dogs and cats being treated by The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine) to help them shed their animalisms. Convincing parents this is the place for their children, what the parents do not know is the methods The Zookeeper uses.
Jacob tries to keep his wolf side at bay but by night, he tries to find a way outside to let out what is screaming inside him. He meets Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), a young woman who has been at the clinic for some time with her cat side. The two become friends as they explore ways to be themselves without watchful eyes and Wildcat just happens to have a few keys.
They both watch other kids around them go through the fear of the clinic and when Jacob is caught, he lets out what is inside him. The Zookeeper knows just what to do when that happens. Now locked up, he must rely on help from Wildcat if he is ever to find his way into the world and live as he wishes to.
MacKay as Jacob was perfectly cast for not only his ability to show very little emotion to things happening around him but the physical stealth when allowing the wolf side to show. From the painful vocals of an animal trapped to the anger as well, MacKay’s portrayal of his character may be docile on the outside, but it is what is inside they should stay away from. The anger is not based on anything other than mistreatment of others and wrongs by human beings.
Depp as Wildcat is equally as physically stealthy, and she sees something in Jacob that touches him. Although she is in somewhat the same boat as Jacob, there is something more about her character that I wish had been explored more. There are hints at it, but it is never brought out clearly. Depp as Wildcat gives her performance dark side a chance to come to the light.
Considine as The Zookeeper is a man on a mission to cure what “ails” the kid, but the problem is he is horrible at it. I do not know where he got his training because it is clear he is more concerned with being cruel than curing. Coming face to face with some of the kids, he uses the verbal beat down to get their attention, but Jacob only bends and refuses to break.
Other cast includes Lola Petticrew as Parrott, Terry Notary as Lion Man, Fionn O’Shea as German Shepherd, Senan Jennings as Duck, Helen Behan as Jacob’s Mom, Karise Yansen as Annalisa, Amy Macken as Ola, Darragh Shannon as Jeremy, Mary Lou McCarthy as Shepherd’s Mom, Collen Keogh as The Zookeepers Assistant, Elsa Fionuir as Horse and Leo Hanna as Almost Out.
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The film reminds me a bit of the 1982 film CAT PEOPLE, which is high on my list of strange, unusual and I would see again and again type films. There is the ‘cat like’ movements in the film that are visually stunning, and WOLF has the same affect bringing the viewer in with brilliant moves.
WOLF can be understood on a few different levels. First, it is about these kids who are different than others but instead of understanding them, their parents choose to be mortified and want to hide them. Believing it is something ‘curable’, they entrust their child to a clinic and walk away.
Second, it could be seen as a double bit of cruelty to humans and ‘animals’. The Zookeeper will do anything to get results which includes treating the kids in ways that make him more of an animal than the kids/animals. Finally, it is a story about kids who just want to be accepted by the adults who are supposed to love them unconditionally. Their differences are not worthy of what is happening to them.
All that being said, I truly wish the story had been explored more. The Jacob and the other kid/animals have such a deep story to tell, and the film just lays on the surface instead of going to the depths that would have made the film even more intense. Jacob shows us a bit of what it is like to be him, and I thought to myself that there was so much more to explore about his emotional and physical process.
WOLF is a film filled with so many different directions but the main one is that these kids believed in who they are even if no one else does. That is a powerful statement and one that has become so in recent years.
In the end – they want too just be!