My Animal Review: The Werewolf Mythos Finds Fresh Blood in a Lesbian Lycan Horror Film

My Animal Review: The Werewolf Mythos Finds Fresh Blood in a Lesbian Lycan Horror Film ...

An entranced Heather (a terrific Bobbi Salvör Menuez) sits on her knees in her white nightgown as a television's gray glow, emanating from the face of a full moon, envelopes her. Growing, she drags herself across the carpet of her dimmed living room, before leaping out of her house and into the woods for an immersive reimaging of a werewolf transformation.

Castel's film awakens not only a lack of interest in the genre, but also the liquidy gray-scaled landscape scenes, or the aggressive shaky handheld tracking through the snow-covered forest. It's the Shelly Duvall hosted series "Faerie Tale Theatre," which Heather was watching on her television, that awakens us in Castel's charged sensual and aching sexual politics.

"Love can make a guy a monster and love can make an ugly man beautiful," says the prince. And love is what will awaken Heather.

"My Animal," a depressing coming-of-age fairy tale, gently builds tension to lead us — and the film's character — toward a subversive catharsis. Through Heather, a teenager living in a remote town who takes a romantic interest in Jonny (Amandla Stenberg), an overworked figure skater, first-time feature filmmaker Castel recreates the queer subtext of displaced identity that dwells in most lycan legends.

Heather is beaten by the local boys in a manner often reminiscent of "Carrie," but her homelife is in jeopardy. Her younger twin brothers find her sexual orientation disturbing, her drunkard mother (Heidi von Palleske) oscillates between gentle and nasty, and Heather can never leave home until midnight, for fear she might reveal her identity (she even sleeps shackled in a dark red bed).

Jonny, who is often abused by her coach and disregarded by her boyfriend, is as much an outcast, at least emotionally, as Heather. Their relationship simmers not just because of their shared sense of disconnection, but because of Heather's fear about revealing both her sexual and physical identity.

Jae Matthews' script, which includes young adult tropes, queer horror genres like "Knife + Heart" and "The Hunger," as well as homages to '80s films, offers Castel powerful tools to help elevate ordinary teenage worries into suspenseful set pieces. For example, Heather loses track of time as her watch beeps past midnight, and she completely transforms into a werewolf in one scene.

The wolf scenes are dominated by a blurred, madly swinging freneticism that spirals toward the point of combustion. Heather and Jonny become closer as their lenses capture sensual fragments that oscillate with the Grecian notion of eros. Menuez is visibly guarded, soft-spoken, and folded in, yet defiantly broad in their searching gaze. Stenberg further carves out a sense of loneliness in the desolation landscape, which fulfills the outline function,

Jonny, the only Black person in this remote, snow-burdened town, is oddly absent in the 1980s landscape. We'd expect a stronger backstory about her upbringing in comparison to Heather's family's. The town is equally unimaginable. Castel's apologies for the script's adherence to fairytale tropes.

Castel has so many tropes spinning at the same time that you wonder if she can really bring them all together at one time? What does catharsis and release mean for this character? When does the killing begin?

Castel is an intelligent filmmaker who spends much of "My Animal" dropping breadcrumbs, such as overt references to "Carrie," that draw in the audience to an answer they don't know. She pokes and prods, enthusing our curiosity to ecstatic bloodlust.

Heather, covered in scars, finds love in Castel, who guides it in a difficult, yet no less brutal pose.

"My Animal" was the first film to be premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It will be released by Paramount at a later date.