In the most striking scene of the gripping psychological thriller The Wolf, Jacob (George McKay) kneels in front of a wild animal in a cage. Like the creature, Jacob feels trapped: he sees himself as a human-born wolf.
His body is not his only cell. When the story begins, Jacob is taken to a conversion clinic run by a man named Zoo Keeper (Paddy Considine). The institute’s young patients, who identify themselves in different ways, including panda, squirrel and spider, are undergoing treatment to tame and nurture them. However, it is no coincidence that the guards look like wild animals: in order to convince one of the residents that she is a girl and not a parrot, the zoo keeper throws her out of the window and challenges her.
At first, Jacob is an empty and uncomplaining patient. But sometimes at night he lets the wolf take over from the inside, his deltoid muscles sway as he walks on all fours. He finds a companion in Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp), a restless, longtime resident of the center who is associated with Jacob on a bestial level.
Written and directed by Natalie Biancheri, the film retains a largely flat tone. Despite outbursts of supernatural humor, Biancheri directs remotely. The downside to this approach is that certain scenes tend to feel like acting exercises, and while McKay and Depp play with devoted bodily zeal, it’s hard to bond with their characters.
Nonetheless, Biancheri’s portraits are invariably evocative, and her interest in how captivity affects dignity is at times reminiscent of the work of Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s only towards the end that the story really gets you thinking when it borders on explaining species dysphoria as a reaction to trauma. The “wolf” can lead with open curiosity, but openness is not always enough in the fight against big ideas about identity.
An R grade for dehumanization, desirable or not. The duration of the performance is 1 hour 38 minutes. In theaters.