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Sundance 2023: ‘My Animal’- Film review

Feb 2, 2023

Sundance 2023

Midnight Selection

“My Animal”

Director Jacqueline Castel tears into the werewolf genre with her terrific and effective feature filmmaking debut, “My Animal”.

Written by Jae Matthews, Castel has directed a genre film where its emotions and situations are grounded in realism, as much as a monster movie can be.

While there is a constant aura of danger, Castel’s picture isn’t full-on Horror. Genre fans certainly will not be disappointed, but neither will devotees of well-drawn characters and intimate stories of human connection.

“My Animal” uses its story to mirror the feeling of being an outcast in a society that refuses to accept you.

Set in the 1980s, a superb Bobbi Salvör Menuez is Heather, a loner (for a very good reason) who is a fan of the primal violence of professional wrestling and a young woman who dreams of playing hockey, but the misogynistic coach won’t give her a chance because she is a girl.

Her home life is defeating. Heather’s alcoholic mother (Heidi von Palleske) suffers from violent moods that torpedo many a complacent moment. Her younger twin brothers play on a hockey team, causing her to feel somewhat inferior in the male dominated sport.

Heather has no friends, no prospects, and no outlet for anything.

One snowy night, Heather meets Jonny (an equally strong Amandla Stenberg), a figure skater who carries her own set of baggage. In desperate need of a real human connection, she is drawn to Jonny and their relationship eventually evolves into something deeper and more passionate.

Menuez and Stenberg share an incredible honesty between their characters. The actresses are completely natural together, achieving an emotional and erotic potency that fuels the screenplay’s honest depiction of the two women.

As things get serious and sexual urges come into play, Jonny becomes confused about her own sexuality as Heather worries what to do with her dark secret.

Heather is a werewolf, a curse she inherited from her father (Stephen McHattie), who suffers from the same affliction.

Dad keeps his daughter (and himself) chained up during the full moon, but only at night and before midnight, as this is when the lycanthropic changes begin.

Jaqueline Castel proves a confident filmmaker who knows how tell her story through imagery and mood.

Cinematographer Bryn McCashin’s camera and composer Augustus Muller’s retro-synth score finds the perfect symmetry in creating the eerie atmosphere and by flawlessly recreating the feel of the 1980’s.

From the film’s look to its characters, nothing feels phony, and the unsettling tone Castel creates never loses its effectiveness.

The horrors of Heather’s curse are ever present, but it is her emotional journey that fuels the film’s drama. The conflicts at home and her struggle to fit in give the screenplay its emotional core.

Blanketed in blood-red hues and rich in relatable human conflictions, Castel’s film is a fascinatingly moving coming-of-age tale that embraces its unnatural ambience through mood and emotion.

A metaphor for one’s primal urges and budding sexuality, “My Animal” is a well-crafted character piece with a werewolf tale lurking inside.

Director Jacqueline Castel has made something unique and quite special.

 

My Animal

Written by Jae Mattews

Directed by Jaqueline Castel

Starring Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Heidi van Palleske, Stephen McHattie

NR, 100 Minutes, Band With Pictures/Good Movies

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