Indisputably the best female-centric werewolf movie shot in Canada since Ginger Snaps (2000) — admittedly not the most competitive of fields — sensual queer horror story My Animal marks an impressive, confident feature debut for several key talents. First and foremost, debutante director Jacqueline Castel, already an experienced short film and music video helmer who has collaborated with David Lynch and John Carpenter, imbues this first-feature script by Jae Matthews with a woozy, dreamy, retro sensibility. (Matthews is also half of the electronic band Boy Harsher along with Augustus Muller, who contribute a very John Carpenter-esque soundtrack of sustained drones and bass-heavy humming.)
Altogether, the team creates a richly hued setting for the young but in some ways more seasoned leads. Bobbi Salvor Menuez (I Love Dick) stars as a lovelorn teen-wolf living in the sticks who looks at Amandla Stenberg’s (Bodies Bodies Bodies) figure skater with the kind of longing you only see in dogs looking at plush duck toys that squeak. Paramount Worldwide acquired the international rights (excluding Canada) before the film premiered in Sundance’s Midnight section.
The Bottom Line
Love at first bite.
A few cutaways to books on lycanthropy and some GoPro-style fish-eyed footage of wolves is all it takes here to establish the baseline to the story. It emerges that our heroine Heather (Menuez), only a few years out of high school when the story starts properly, is the first-born child of werewolf Henry (Stephen McHattie), who runs a local diner, and his human wife Patti (Heidi von Palleske), an alcoholic. In addition to Heather, the couple also have two adolescent identical twin sons (Charles and Harrison Halpenny), who, like Heather, have inherited their mother’s glorious red hair but, judging by their eyeshine in low light levels, also their father and sister’s lycanthrope genetics.
Like the recent cannibal-centric Bones and All or, going back a bit, Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 vampire feature Near Dark, My Animal aligns its horror trope condition with outsider status. The subtextual suggestion seems to be that those born this way, like the those with addiction issues or perhaps LGBTQ+ inclinations, often find themselves forced to the margins by a society that doesn’t understand their needs or desires. That said, Heather at least knows who she is in every sense, and complies with the family habit of handcuffing herself to the bed when the full moon comes out while, more secretly, she finds herself aroused by female wrestlers and body builders. (Menuez identifies as trans and prefers they/them pronouns.)
When she sees pink-clad, power femme Jonny (Stenberg) at the ice skating rink where she works, Heather is immediately smitten. Jonny seems attracted to Heather as well, perhaps without even knowing it yet herself, but is still locked in variously toxic relationships with men. These include her controlling father (Scott Thompson), with whom she performs as a skating duo in matching spangles and spandex outfits, and a thuggish baseball-player boyfriend, Rick (Cory Lipman).
But as the two young women start spending more time together, the attraction grows stronger, leading to an extended, inventively filmed sex scene, all canted angles and primary colored gel filters that’s both very hot yet tame enough to stay inside R-rated lines with the censors. Unfortunately, the full moon is fast approaching and Jonny seems afeared of what this new relationship will entail.
The two leads have palpable chemistry to burn, and their tentative relationship will strike a tender spot for anyone who has fallen inconveniently in love with someone unexpected. But the final act takes a little time to get its ducks in a row. Moreover, despite the fact that writer Matthews explains in the press notes that the story was partly inspired by her own experience of grief, the part of the script that that autobiographical experience maps onto doesn’t intersect as neatly as it could with the core love story. The ending is vexingly open, and while that might give the film a bit of arthouse-friendly ambiguity, some viewers may feel like ravenous wolves hungry for real meat who are finally offered only some dry kibble.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)
Cast: Bobbi Salvor Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Stephen McHattie, Heidi von Palleske, Cory Lipman, Joe Apollonio, Charles Halpenny, Harrison Halpenny, Dean McDermott, Scott Thompson
Production companies: Photon Films & Crave, Good Movies, Band with Pictures, XYZ Films, Jobpro Productions, Greenground Productions, Vigilante,
Director: Jacqueline Castel
Screenwriter: Jae Matthews
Producers: Andrew Bronfman, Michael Solomon
Executive producers: Peter Van Steemburg, Pip Ngo, Todd Brown, Jacqueline Castel, Jae Matthews, Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Mark Slone, Sarde Hardie, Jonathan Bronfman, Jason Ross Jallett, Aonan Yang, Alireza Khatami, Mark Gingras, John Laing
Director of photography: Bryn McCashin
Production & costume designer: Emma Doyle
Editors: Marc Boucrot, Jacqueline Castel
Sound designer: Dean Hurley
Composer: Augustus Muller
Music supervisor: Pier Harrison
Casting: Melissa A. Smith
1 hour 43 minutes