My Animal Review – Sundance Film Festival

Tales about werewolves have become a popular stories for people, especially in film. It is interesting for audiences to see the transformation of a human being into a beast during the night. There are a ton of movies that have explored this tale, and My Animal has become part of the pack. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival as part of their Midnight features, My Animal isn’t any typical werewolf film. The lycanthrope flick uses the story as a metaphor for acceptance and embracing oneself. So it’s more of a coming-out story of a lesbian teen that happens to be a werewolf herself. 

My Animal is about Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez), a young misfit living in a small town in Canada who loves playing hockey and is a bit of a loner. She also carries a dark secret, she is cursed to become a werewolf whenever there is a full moon at night. It is a family curse that has been passed down from her father (Stephen McHattie) as she and her twin brothers have inherited his Lycan gene. Her mother, who is human, often struggles with their predicament and drinks herself in guilt. Heather’s life changes after meeting Johnny (Amandla Stenberg), an aspiring figure skater whom she completely falls over heels for. The two of them become friends and a passion grows between them. However, Johnny is afraid of accepting herself as queer, which only draws Heather closer to her. Heather’s feelings for Johnny only make her much more vulnerable to who she is as she struggles to accept what she has become.

The film does heavily draw upon the 80s as inspiration from the cinematography to the soundtrack. The screen often goes blood red in certain shots when we see things like Heather’s transformation or when she fantasizes about Johnny. With the snowy landscape as the film’s backdrop, it builds up the tension in a slow burn but it’s part of the pacing to show that this isn’t a typical horror film. Every frame becomes hauntingly beautiful with this approach to filmmaking thanks to director Jacqueline Castel and cinematographer Bryn McCashin. The techno-synth score does make the film feel more like those scary films back in the 80s. It often feels like a love letter to that era of cinema in some ways.

Menuez gives a good performance as Heather, giving audiences a glimpse into her life as a social outcast in her community. We see how much she suppresses her identity rather than embracing it. We see her trying to fulfill her dreams of being in an all-male hockey team, even though she gets passed on the opportunity due to her gender. Most of her feelings don’t root from just her isolation but also because of her sexuality. Even her conflicted feelings with Johnny become a reason for her to have a difficult time avoiding bringing out the beast within her. Menuez’s chemistry with Stenberg is what truly lights the screen up.

My Animal has a good blend of coming-of-age and horror in its story. However, the script isn’t as strong as it tends to be when it comes to making a queer story wrapped around a werewolf tale. The film does a great job setting up its premise, but it’s after the film settles when there’s not much story to gnaw on. There are familiar beats in the story that get predictable as the film revolves around Heather and Johnny’s growing relationship. Their love story is the heart of the movie, but the problem is the story never fully takes shape as it should.

Ultimately, My Animal subverts the typical werewolf story into a great queer love story about accepting one’s sexuality and nature. It is wonderfully shot by Castel as she puts in enough work behind the camera to make itself unique with an 80s-style approach to certain shots and choice of music. At times, the film doesn’t fully live up to its potential to bring more of a connection to Heather’s transformation as a metaphor for her sexual orientation. Despite the script being somewhat weak, there is enough bite in this plot to make it worth checking out.

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