When initially reading about George MacKay, one the most talented up-and-coming actors, starring in the film, “Wolf,” I couldn’t help but get excited for this film. The trailer, where Jacob (MacKay) believes to be a wolf, looked promising, particularly seeing MacKay physically invested in the character.
“Wolf” (2021) follows Jacob who’s admitted into a clinic by his parents in hopes that he’ll be “cured” from his belief that he’s trapped in the wrong body. Written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri, this drama explores the subject matter of “species dysphoria” in a bold and admirable manner.
The topic of species dysphoria is relatively new to me. Admittedly, it took me a little longer than usual to decipher what I’d watched. My initial reaction was to associate this premise with experiences similarly faced by LGBTQ individuals, specifically those who’ve been admitted to clinics for “treatment” (aka conversation therapy). Through Jacob, we learn that the various treatments applied to the patients range from group counseling and writing in journals to electrical shocks and being locked and chained inside a cage.
The production design is excellent. Everyone in the clinic wears the same clothing where the sense of uniformism and authoritarianism overwhelms the atmosphere. Each room is painted with clouds, trees and grass, giving off an artificial feel of nature. Ironic as the patients aren’t allowed to leave the facility which is located adjacent to the woods.
MacKay as Jacob is without a doubt the highlight of this movie as he delivers a completely transformative, mesmerizing, and physically committed performance. Aside from his physicality, MacKay successfully depicts his internal struggle via his body language and meticulous facial expressions. His constant struggle to fight off his inner wolf is engrossing and heartbreaking to witness. However, when he lets his canine take over, WOW! His howling is both painful yet gratifying. Aided by the cinematography, especially during the night, the perfect lighting and camera placement give audiences the impression an actual wolf is walking down the halls only to realize its Jacob.
The film isn’t without its flaws though. The writing isn’t its strongest suit as well as some secondary and background characters who were severely underwritten, including the character depicted by Lily-Rose Depp. It feels like her only purpose is to randomly be in the right place at the right time for Jacob to go onto his next venture. The clinic logically has more patients who also believe they’re other species ranging from a bird to a spider to a squirrel and a dog. Some sequences involving these characters feel unnecessary and meaningless since their development is nonexistent. The treatment they’re submitted into is inhumane and cruel. Some graphic choices are presented (like fingernails coming off while climbing a tree) in such that I had to turn away momentarily. The antagonists, those running the facility, come across as caricatures and underdeveloped, one-dimensional villains that make it difficult to care about them or even root against them.
Overall though, “Wolf” is a bold and admirable depiction of the internal struggle to be your true self.