September 8th, 2023
MOVIE: MY ANIMAL
STARRING: BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ, AMANDLA STENBERG, STEPHEN MCHATTIE, HEIDI VON PALLESKE
DIRECTED BY: JACQUELINE CASTEL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Similar to how Birth/Rebirth was a new imagining of Frankenstein, My Animal is a reimagining of The Wolfman. It’s not like the Lon Chaney Jr. stuff. There’s no cursed man, a transformation into a hairy beast, or succumbing to animal-like ways. But there is the teenage angst, the uncomfortable reality of being different from others, and the fear of what you will become when it’s a full moon. My Animal is a brooding, biting piece of horror cinema and a fantastic first feature from director Jacqueline Castel.
Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) is an outcast, living in a small Canadian town, with an alcoholic mother (Heidi von Palleske), twin brothers, and her dependable father Henry (Stephen McHattie). She wants to be a member of the only junior hockey team around but they won’t let her play because she’s a girl. There’s also something about Heather and what we discover is that she sleeps chained to her bed, with multiple locks on her door, an alarm that goes off on her phone every night around six, and a curfew from her parents to be home. She is still just a kid but something else lurks inside her. Something her parents refuse to let become unleashed.
When reinventing the werewolf story, there needs to be a new approach or a change in the narrative that makes it stand out. For Castel and writer Jae Matthews, what they create spectacularly is isolation, not just for Heather in her unique situation, but in the town itself. One gets the sense that this is the setting of a zombie outbreak or a town ravaged by economic struggle. But the isolation and cold weather only help build the tension. Castel off-sets that tension with Bryn McCashin’s cinematography, which hits similar to the Nicolas Cage film Mandy, but also becomes reminiscent of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. Those are two films to be in great company with.
Being in a quiet town and the only potential werewolf can make life bleak. Heather finds comfort in another teenager, Jonny (Bodies Bodies Bodies star Amandla Stenberg), who practices figure skating at the same rink. There is an interesting connection between the two, forged in their sheer situation of teen angst, but also connecting with a vibe. It seems like two separate vibes, one of sexual attraction for Heather and the other for Jonny seeing a new friend as a project. That friendship of course becomes divided by other various boys interested in Jonny, the pressure of being popular, and the uncomfortable nature of Heather being unable to reveal her true self.
On various levels, My Animal is an excellent start for a new young director, but also a snapshot of how classic genre films can always be reinvented. Although there may be beats that feel too slow, most of those beats are necessary in the creation of mood and setting. The lead performance by Menuez glows like the moon and Stenberg is her reliable self. My Animal is a fresh new take on the werewolf story, a strong new independent horror, giving us plenty to howl about.
MY ANIMAL IS PLAYING IN THEATERS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 8TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady