Review: Compassionate and Empathetic, 'Wolf' is Also Profoundly Moving

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 3, 2021


While Nathalie Biancheri's film "Wolf" might seem to be an odd concept and perhaps, a stretch, the result is an engrossing study of both identity and human being's treatment of animals.

It might seem strange, but species dysphoria is a real thing. It is described as "the experience of dysphoria and dysmorphia involving the belief of one's body being the wrong species." That is the main idea behind "Wolf," which stars George MacKay ("1917," "Pride") as a young man named Jacob who believes himself to be a wolf. Dropped off at an experimental facility that treats young people with similar conditions, he walks around the facility perplexed by the other people around him as they act like dogs, horses, squirrels, and birds. There's a disbelief in his eyes as if he's thinking, "They aren't me. I am really a wolf."

After leaving his room one night, slinking through the empty halls to the kitchen where he can see the moon streaming through a window, Jacob meets Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), who thinks she's of feline origin. She hisses at him and they prowl around each other until they are interrupted by someone who has heard Jacob howling at the moon — and escape back to their rooms.

Treatment at the facility consists of a counselor (Eileen Walsh) who constantly tries to get the patients to act in more human ways, oftentimes in a patronizing way. The head of the facility is The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine), who treats the patients harshly and sometimes violently as he continually tries to prove to them that they aren't what they think they are. It's disturbing the lengths he'll go, and it puts into question the ethics of his treatment and the facility. No one seems to be trying to get to the heart of the matter, and the patients are generally looked on as petulant children.

Jacob notices this, and while he tries to comply, he just wants to go outside and roll around in the grass and howl. There's a beauty in it and, oddly, a sexiness to him as he creeps shirtless on all fours through the moonlit nights. He has a particularly effective growl, as well.

What's interesting about the film is that it is respectful of its subject matter and the people with the condition. It is clear the "bad guys" are those that run the facility, and while it might be hard for these patients to get along in the real world, it is clear that there is a better way to go about treating them. I couldn't help but wonder if the patients had actually been these animals in a past life, and for some reason they didn't lost that connection when they were born human. In that sense, their instinct is almost beautiful; yet, their treatment is abhorrent.

When you see these patients being hurt or thrown in cages, you begin to think of what we do to animals, whether as pets or in a places like a zoo. When the German Shepherd boy (Fionn O'Shea) is being led around by a dog collar or has his face pressed into his own urine, you are shocked by the action, but then you can't help but wonder if we should be just as shocked when we do it to an actual animal.

While there is no easy resolution here, "Wolf" is a fascinating study of a rare condition Biancheri doesn't mock, but instead treats the subject with compassion and empathy. In many ways it can be compared to those that feel they were born in the wrong body, and their ongoing struggle for identify and acceptance. In this, the film profoundly moved me, and has become one my favorite films of the year.

"Wolf" opens in theaters December 3rd.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.