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film review

George MacKay is Jacob in director Nathalie Biancheri’s Wolf.Focus Features

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Wolf

Written and directed by Nathalie Biancheri

Starring George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp and Paddy Considine

Classification R; 98 minutes

Opens in select theatres Dec. 3

More an extreme theatre-school exercise than a substantive act of filmmaking, the new drama Wolf is one wild, rabid mess.

Following a group of kids and teens who have been committed to a sinister clinic specializing in treating “species dysphoria” (a very real thing in which people are convinced that they are actually squirrels, dogs, spiders, etc.), writer-director Nathalie Biancheri is aiming for, I think, a metaphor for the “conversion therapy” industry that tries to convince queer youth that they’re actually straight. Or maybe Biancheri is just interested in convincing a handful of young attractive actors to strip down and writhe around on all fours as they try their hardest to ape apes, among other creatures great and small. Whatever the filmmaker’s intentions might be, very little of Wolf works.

The film opens when Jacob (George MacKay) is dropped off at the clinic by his tearful parents. Apparently the young man, who is convinced that he is a wolf, has been harming others, or at least himself, and needs the interventions of a man only known as the “Zookeeper” (Paddy Considine). Along with his psychologist lieutenant (Eileen Walsh), the Zookeeper tries to coax his charges back to the human world through the use of technology, music, dance and more suspect measures.

It’s certainly impressive how much MacKay (best known for his starring role in the First World War epic 1917) throws himself into the nature-bending challenge – the guy can do a mean howl, maybe even better than his Twilight werewolf namesake – and Lily-Rose Depp similarly commits to her role as a tiger trapped in a young woman’s body.

But Biancheri hasn’t thought through her premise’s potential, and her directorial tone veers from cheeky dark comedy to ultraserious miserablism. By the time that the S&M-esque gear comes out to literally cage these young men and women, any intended sense of shock gives way to eye-rolling boredom.

Free the animals, and then free yourself.

Lily Rose Depp stars as Wildcat in Wolf.Focus Features

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.