One of the many exercises acting students participate in when learning their craft is to pretend to be any animal. Among other purposes, it allows students to explore their physicality and to try to inhabit a being complete foreign to themselves. While there are occasions that actors have to play animals, the exercise is rarely meant to be explicit practice for such a role.
The new movie Wolf is like that acting exercise turned into a feature-length film, with all of the excitement of an outsider watching the actors go through the motions. As the film begins, Jacob (George MacKay) is being taken to a facility for kids and teenagers with Species Identity Disorder, i.e., people who believe they are animals.
There, Jacob meets fellow patients like Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), who seems to have free rein in the facility; German Shepherd (Fionn O’Shea), who shares Jacob’s canine affinity; and Parrott (Lola Petticrew), who is for some reason allowed to dress up as her animal. The person overseeing the facility is The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine), who puts on a publicly nice persona when parents visit, but often turns sadistic when alone with the patients.
Written and directed by Natalie Biancheri, the film will test the patience of all but the most ardent art-film enthusiasts. That’s because even though we spend a lot of time with the patients and staff of the facility, nothing actually seems to happen. Mostly what’s shown is the day-to-day life of the group, which involves some combination of group therapy, patients allowed to go wild, or the staff indulging in merciless treatment of the patients.
What never becomes clear is the point of it all. On a surface level, how the patients are treated makes no sense. There seems to be no real attempt at rehabilitating any of them, and various patients are allowed to do wildly different things. Of course, since it’s an art film, there may be a metaphor in the story somewhere, but it’s hidden among the histrionics.
The best that can be said for the film is that each of the actors commits to their roles completely. MacKay, who wowed in 1917, goes all out in his wolf-trapped-in-a-human role, and so even though the part makes no sense, you can’t fault his performance. In Depp’s short-lived career, she’s only played inscrutable characters, perhaps drawing inspiration from her father, Johnny Depp.
Wolf is a film that’s only for a certain type of moviegoer, and even those people may be confused by anything that happens. The film is a bear to watch, and you’d have to be wise as an owl to get anything meaningful out of it.
Wolf is currently running in select theaters.