My Animal (2023) is Unrelenting Emotive Queer Werewolf Angst
Title: My Animal
First Non-Festival Release: September 8, 2023 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Jacqueline Castel
Writer: Jae Matthews
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Starring: Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Heidi von Palleske
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Being a teenager is hard enough without any help from the outside. The usual pitfalls of adolescence are unique to every person and can include a wide swath of issues. Imagine having to undergo a transformation every full moon foiling your attempts to have some beers with friends.
Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) knows that exact feeling. A young werewolf struggling to conceal her powers while keeping her desire to explore her sexuality at bay, Heather finds herself smitten by a newcomer in town, Jonny (Amandla Stenberg). Her father (Stephen McKattie) shows compassion in her struggle while her mother (Heidi von Palleske) serves as a constant roadblock in her life thanks to her unchecked alcoholism. Her hastily stitched-together version of peace falls apart when a series of devastating blows force Heather into a tailspin that reveals more about her than she ever thought would show.
Brutally honest and emotionally stirring, My Animal claws at the fears underneath its queer werewolf metaphor.
A shortage of good werewolf movies means the bar is already low. Regardless of this fact, My Animal shoots for the moon and lands with its small-town tale of desire and loss. Opting for a more grounded approach to lycanthropy, My Animal boasts a more wolf-like design of its central figure. Solid practical effects, essential in any werewolf endeavor, keep the story from going too off the rails while maintaining the necessary amount of body horror. Less action-packed than a typical werewolf feature, My Animal is a slow-burn character study that prefers the subtle horrors of growing up to visceral carnage.
Heather’s life is rough and complicated, yet her persistence to do more with the hand she is given makes it easy to follow her as she stumbles through it. After an incident in her youth led Heather’s mom to tearful bouts of alcohol-induced rage due to Heather losing control, she finds it difficult to shake the specter of her mother’s trauma. Ridiculed in public by her peers and humiliated in private by her mother herself, Heather has no choice but to walk a tightrope to show her love but keep a distance. She loves hockey but sexism in the local league makes it difficult for her to land a spot on the team to prove herself. Her one respite is her loving relationship with her father, who is also a werewolf and understands her struggles.
Lycanthropy has always been a very queer storytelling technique, but My Animal removes the allure that typically follows this tale and trades it for something more vulnerable. Heather’s desire for Jonny may be borne initially from her kindness and beauty, but soon grows steadier as the two spend time together, drinking their nights away and commiserating on their respective teen angst felt towards their parents. Of course, this happiness has an expiration date when everything starts to go wrong for Heather. My Animal leans into the heartbreak of coming-of-age as queer in a place that just isn’t ready to accept you, but it also shows the power in embracing your truth and leaving behind things and people who no longer bring you peace.
Propping up the familiar feeling of otherness, My Animal succeeds largely because of the feeling of loneliness and emptiness that fills the screen. The cold Canadian forests serve as an excellent launching pad for a werewolf film that wants to emphasize isolation. Small towns have plenty of small-minded people and they also only have so many outlets for entertainment, aggression, and curiosity. It’s easy to let things slip.
The moments of comfort between Heather and Jonny, few and far between, are very intimate showing the primal need to connect and be understood. Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Amandla Stenberg have impeccable chemistry and knock it out of the park for their respective performances. This gives these scenes their punch, as the duo truly behave like a loving couple covered under the guise of a strong female friendship. This fleeting warmth dissipates into the snow when the two are separated. Long scenes and moments of Heather mechanically working through life unfulfilled emphasize the coldness of her surroundings. My Animal intentionally zooms in and out during these moments to highlight what closeness can do for a person but also what its absence can cause as well. The camera hardly gets as close to the actors unless it is a moment of intimacy between Heather and Jonny or Heather and her father.
An outstanding feature debut, Jacqueline Castel directs the hell out of this queer werewolf romance that will find its audience well after its launch. My Animal is not a film to expect dazzling fight scene choreography or crazed werewolf attacks. It is a simmering and mournful look at the life and loss of a young gay woman finding power in the things she is told to conceal. Strong performances and bold character arcs make My Animal a rewarding watch for those sustained by good storytelling. It isn’t for everyone, but My Animal is an excellent example of queer horror that is both compelling and exhilarating.
Overall Score? 8/10