Writer and director Nathalie Biancheri gives a whole new meaning to ‘the boy who cried wolf’ in her latest effort Wolf, moving on from her debut Nocturnal to a tale of an unorthodox nocturnal animal. The psychological drama stars George Mackay as Jacob who suffers from species dysphoria, believing that he is a wolf in a boy’s body.
After a violent attack on his brother, he’s committed to a clinic where he meets a group of like-minded individuals, including Cecile (Lily-Rose Depp) who thinks she is a wildcat. As the troubled pair strike up a friendship, their mentor Dr Mann (Paddy Considine), known as The Zookeeper, resorts to extreme curative therapies to treat their worsening conditions.
This may well be an incredibly odd premise, but It’s pitched with a very grounded, humane manner with genuine sensitivity. From the offset, an off-kilter tone is established which is befitting of the narrative; think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster and you won’t be far off. Told through a clinical lens with a chilling colour palette of cold blues and pastels, there’s a bitter darkness to the film that’s cut with a sharp sense of humour. With the trappings of a prison drama, Biancheri uses the caged-in setting as a canvas to explore the film’s themes of mental illness, societal acceptance, and identity, the plot serving as an absurdist metaphor but not shying away from or ridiculing the seriousness of the subject matter.
Due to the bizarre nature of the story, the film relies upon the committed turns from George Mackay, Lily-Rose Depp, and the rest of the cast. Collaborating with the same expert that worked on the reboot Planet of the Apes trilogy, the mammal movements of the characters are brilliantly imagined as they physically transform into the behavioural state of the creatures that embody them.
Biancheri thrives when crafting complex relationships on-screen and Jacob and Cecile’s connection is animalistic and primal, but hugely vulnerable at the same time; see the filmmaker’s previous feature for an unconventional yet tender father-daughter bond. In the antagonistic role of the piece, Paddy Considine is excellent at leaning into the strangeness of the script. He brings volatile eccentricities to his cruel portrayal of The Zookeeper, who appears to be using his power and authority to channel his own deep-rooted issues.
A bold and accomplished sophomore picture that signals its writer and director Nathalie Biancheri as one to watch, Wolf is a visceral character drama that intensifies her cinematic voice to a howl.