Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"An arresting debut."

The most striking thing about Werewolf is telegraphed artfully in its movie poster. It shows two figures framed awkwardly tight, heads and extremities cropped, a lack of spatial context for their bodies. They could be lying or sitting; the picture treats them as tender but barely individual objects. Ashley McKenzie’s directorial debut, a micro budget feature about a co-dependent couple suffering through methadone rehabilitation, maintains this stark and deeply intimate framing throughout.

The camera is invasive but not busy. It settles at a point and action plays out around it, usually paying no attention to conventional framing. It starts to feel irritating, an arthouse gimmick perhaps, but eventually the style begins to capture tics, movements, and gestures that traditional shot setups would miss. Andrew Gillis and Breagh MacNeil play their characters in a convincing manner, and the improvisational set up bleeds through into the shooting style which rarely affords for establishing shots, keeping the audience in the same stupor as the subjects.

Copy picture

Its portrayal of a relationship under the strain of drug dependency is free of bombast and spectacle. The couple drag a lawn mower around town trying to earn enough to eat, and hopefully pay off their tab at a local rehabilitation clinic. MacNeil’s Vanessa is young and determined, whereas Gillis’s Blaise is older but angry at the world, himself, and unable to drag himself out of the pit of addiction.

McKenzie is clearly critical of the establishment that she has seen the effects of first hand, and whilst Blaise conspires to ruin Vanessa’s attempts to improve herself, there’s no doubt the audience is expected to be on side with these characters that have fallen through the last safety nets of society and have subsequently been forgotten.

Because of this, it is a gruelling affair, but one that deserves attention. Too often films about addicts thrust for a drama that isn’t there. Werewolf doesn’t glamourise the road to recovery, or the fatal finales that people sleepwalk themselves into. It focuses on the singular steps that it takes to achieve normalcy, and its intimate cinematography blurs with its loose sense of time, so that only certain signifiers allow us to gauge the slow progress of its characters: the perfection of a menial task, the slight brightening of a person’s hair over weeks.

This is an arresting debut. It doesn’t stigmatise its characters, nor does it attempt to flesh them out in a cloying manner. The motifs it employs resonate well: the whirr of a lawnmower is replaced by the grind of a manual food processor, the endless cycling of each representing the quotidian struggle of trying to keep going. The close camera work captures painful expressions of struggle, and tender moments that would be lost in a more glamorous film, making Werewolf a unique and probing glimpse into an oft told story.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2017
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Werewolf packshot
Two methadone users struggle to escape from their desperate day-to-day situation.

Director: Ashley McKenzie

Writer: Ashley McKenzie

Starring: Andrew Gillis, Kyle M. Hamilton, Bhreagh MacNeil

Year: 2016

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Canada


Glasgow 2017
BIFF 2017

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