George MacKay & Lily-Rose Depp Explore Animal Impulses



A young man (George MacKay) with species identity disorder is committed to a barbaric asylum in Wolf.

Wolf is the strangest film I’ve seen this year. The premise has a young man (George MacKay) with species identity disorder committed to a facility run by a barbaric psychologist. The patients act and behave like animals. Some are dangerous, but they all suffer humiliation and abuse in society. The Wolf ensemble cast is quite convincing. The performances help the film to moderately edge several bothersome flaws.

Jacob (George MacKay) is brought by his parents to a remote asylum that treats species dysphoria. He relishes stalking naked through the woods on all fours like a wolf. But feels tremendous shame and guilt for the trouble he’s caused his family. Jacob observes the German Shepherd (Fionn O’Shea), Parrot (Lola Petticrew), and Horse (Elsa Fionuir) being bullied by the Zookeeper (Paddy Considine). A medical director who uses pain and fear as primary methods of treatment.

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A late night prowl introduces Jacob to the Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp). The pair become entranced by each other’s animal persona. But her reasons for being there have deeper entanglements. The Zookeeper focuses his cruelty on Jacob, who continues to embrace a feral nature. Wildcat must choose between the only place she has ever known or a forbidden love fraught with danger.

Director/writer Nathalie Biancheri treats mental illness seriously. There’s nothing comical about the patients. This isn’t a Furries with a fetish problem film. They all struggle to manage their animal impulses. It’s even more disturbing to watch them brutalized by the Zookeeper’s sadistic exercises. The asylum is a soul-crushing place, but it also oddly represents for some a safe environment from the outside world.

George MacKay is really pushing himself with physically demanding roles. The breakout star of 1917 and The True History of the Kelly Gang is incredible here. His tall, thin frame is chiseled with sinewy muscle. MacKay’s shoulder blades jut out considerably in wolf state. He then seamlessly flips the switch to melancholic human. MacKay grimaces when forced to smile by the therapists. The anguish of suppressing his true nature is always evident. This is a challenging role that most actors wouldn’t have the talent or conviction to play.

Jacob and the Wildcat have the run of the place at night. Nathalie Biancheri’s script gives her access everywhere. I found it impossible to believe the two could cavort on all fours, sniff each aggressively, and howl on the roof without being noticed or caught. Biancheri clearly establishes that security is tight. My willing suspension of disbelief began to wane as the animal romance heats up. She needed to think of another way for them to secretly interact.

Wolf is an arthouse film that won’t appeal to the general public. It’s definitely worth watching if you’re interested in something radically different. The film explores a bizarre subject matter. It’s not always successful, but solid lead acting goes a long way. I’d love to hear what Furries think. Wolf is a production of Screen Ireland and the Polish Film Institute. It’s currently in select theaters from Focus Features.

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Julian Roman
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.

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