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Nathalie Biancheri’s disturbing, thought-provoking film, “Wolf,” begins with Jacob’s barebones. He is standing upright, naked, with his muscular frame standing firmly among the creatures of the lush green forest. He rolls on the ground. Her mud-soaked skin glows with dew. His nostrils swell when he takes a deep breath. It is a recurring dream, as real and as constant as Jacob’s existence. Jacob believes he is a wolf.
Written and directed by Biancheri, “Wolf”, a true narrative quest identity, is a cross between Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Lobster” and Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The film takes inspiration from other subcultures. Otherkin does not fully identify as human. They believe that, through reincarnation or trans-species dysphoria, they are derived from animals. Because of his faith, Jacob’s parents send him to a peculiar psychiatric clinic specializing in “species identity disorder”.
A vicious doctor known as “The Zookeeper” (a ruthless Paddy considine) runs the facility. They believe this condition is a learned behavior. His treatment includes delivering tablet computers filled with animal hunting games because he believes the technology will bring patients closer to humanity. The character represents in myriad ways Biancheri’s commentary on the cruelest forms of human nature: the practice of indifference, otherness, and bigotry toward other living beings.
Jacob (George McKay) is involved in a fight for survival against the zookeeper. His only companion in this survival struggle is Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), the adopted daughter of the other convenience chief, played by Eileen Walsh. Both want to run. But the outside world is not forgiving people like him. The rare time when reality infiltrates the glass clinic, two local crooks throw a dead dog out of a window (a warning needed for animal lovers).
However, no one else is invited inside the hospital. The zookeeper employs brutal methods to dispel his patients’ perceived delusions: he dares a young girl named Parrott (Lola Petticru) to leap out of a window to prove she can fly. He forces the squirrel (Darragh Shannon) to climb a tree, breaking the boy’s finger in the process. While the film centers Otherkin, the facility’s architecture serves as a larger metaphor for gender: stagey play areas in which patients perform, emphasizing performances while blue, pink, and white paint the transgender flag. draws inspiration from.
McKay gives a visceral, physical performance. When, among other patients, his back is stiff, such that he can remain perfectly still, imperfectly human, he cannot miss to suppress his true instincts. While alone in his room, he screams and whispers when he swallows the half-echoed squeak. Since breaking out in Sam Mendes’ heart-wrenching World War I drama, “1917”, McKay has relied on portraying characters who suppress his emotions, such as his character in “True History of the Kelly Gang”. turn. But in “Wolf,” McKay balances on the edge of something more than elemental, more than dangerous.
Jacob falls in love with a wildcat. But as her animal side begins to overtake her human reactions, her existence is put at risk by the zookeeper, forcing the couple to plan a breakout. Sometimes “Wolf” is modest, relying on mystery and allegory to build the suspense, but Biancheri’s sense of narrative adventure conjures this existentialist picture with more than restlessness. She gives it softness. Through Mackay’s brute force, “Wolf” runs wild with a life-affirming streak of independence.
Rated: R for some abusive behavior, sexuality, nudity and language
running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: In general release starting December 3rd