Review: 'My Animal' or Wolfing Out
Talk about nonbinary. The protagonist of "My Animal," a horror-romance by first-time feature director Jacqueline Castel, is not just preoccupied with her blossoming lesbian nature, but also, at regular, moon-triggered intervals, her inner werewolf as well.
This girl's name is Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez) and she lives a dull, chilly life in northern Ontario, in a town that looks like a snow-globe prison from which there can be no escape. It's a good place for a tale of desperate teen alienation to play out, and the script, by Jae Matthews (another first-timer), offers some novel genre flourishes. With little else to do besides play hockey and drink beer, Heather livens up the long nights with muscle-girl magazines and masturbation sessions built around old videotapes of female pro wrestlers. She longs for more, of course, and when a new girl named Jonny (Amandla Stenberg, of "Bodies Bodies Bodies") turns up, Heather thinks she's found it.
Heather and Jonny's subsequent flirtations range in Scoville intensity from sweet (a side-by-side Zamboni ride around a deserted hockey rink) to heated (a passionate clinch by a barroom jukebox). Menuez and Stenberg have an appealing chemistry. But the gender-fluidity they may have been thought to bring to the movie seems moot: Menuez, a onetime fashion model, identifies as trans, and Stenberg pronounces herself nonbinary. But since both actors started out in life as females, and are playing females here, there's no tangy transsexual frisson -- we're just happy to see that nontraditional performers are getting movie work. Apart from that, Stenberg has a very traditional star presence, and Menuez a striking ability to convey emotion with the subtlest shift of facial expressions. (At some angles they also recall the Andrea Riseborough of "Mandy" -- a movie that this one, with its similar rampant reds, somewhat resembles.)
Heather and Jonny's love story isn't fated to run smooth. Heather gets emotional support from her father (Stephen McHattie, recalling another fright-flick dad: Lance Henriksen, in "Near Dark"), who understands all about his daughter's lycanthropy because it was he who bequeathed it to her. (Her mom, played by Heidi von Palleske, lost out in the werewolf lottery and compensates by drinking heavily.) Jonny's home life is even less pleasant -- she has a father (Scott Thompson, of "The Kids in the Hall") and a jock boyfriend (Cory Lipman) who are both complete asses, of slightly different sorts.
The movie is rich in snowbound atmosphere (Bryn McCashin shot it), and much enhanced by its score, by Augustus Muller (writer Jae Matthews' partner in an electro duo called Boy Harsher). Unfortunately, the picture's most significant flaw is its narrative strategy: The werewolf bits never quite gel with the teen romance. And what wolf-outs there are lack the bracing savagery we'd normally expect in this sort of film (a deficiency no doubt imposed by a modest budget). All things considered, though, "My Animal" is a tribute to the indie determination of all involved -- especially Menuez and Stenberg, who'll be back before you know it.
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.
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