Sunday, 18 September 2016

WEREWOLF - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - The Dardenne Brothers in Cape Breton?

Werewolf (2016)
Dir. Ashley McKenzie
Starring: Bhreagh MacNeil, Andrew Gillis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Films about homeless, drug-addicted, at-risk youth have joined the dime-a-dozen club (especially) in recent years, so it takes the work of a genuine artist to raise this kind of material to stratospheric heights.

Such is the case with director Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf.

That there seem to be no false notes in this portrait of life on the mean streets of New Waterford, Nova Scotia (shot on Cape Breton Island) is nothing short of a miracle.

That the world of methadone clinics, greasy spoons and gravel roads do indeed pulse with the sort of sentience and eye for detail one would expect from a filmmaker who'd achieved master status decades ago would not come as a surprise at all, but that it is a first feature adds to the feeling of being completely T-Boned.

That this sad, sorrowful tale is told with such economy should make poseurs (and anyone who admires said poseurs) like Andrea Arnold (who this year delivered American Honey, the dour, all-over-the-map kitchen sink she calls a movie) be ashamed.

That the film's style offers up a brilliant new approach to visualizing narrative gives me hope that cinema is not dead.

A young woman (Bhreagh MacNeil) seeks to escape a life of homelessness and drug dependency as the young man (Andrew Gillis) who loves her spirals ever downward as she ascends. In many ways, it's an old story, but writer-director McKenzie makes it fresh, vital and important.

Gorgeously, bravely photographed and edited, there are moments when you feel, sometimes quite literally, that the breath is being ripped right out of you. Yes, the strokes dazzle, but they're not overdone, nor are they self-conscious - they are, in fact, rooted in both character and narrative and as such, serve to deliver both emotional wallops and the kind of forward movement most directors can only dream about.

Werewolf is rife with the kind of neo-realist touches one expects, nay - DEMANDS, from the likes of the Brothers Dardenne and McKenzie creates a perfect atmosphere for her talented leads to deliver performances that are gob-smackingly heart-breaking.

Finally though, using Neo-realism as a springboard, McKenzie's wholly original mise-en-scene ultimately rules the day. Placing emphasis on single (and often strange) visual details in every scene is what forces certain mundane realities to eventually take on earth-shattering resonance. This results in something very extraordinary - we see ourselves and those we know in a world most of us can only imagine, and this is a testament to the filmmaker's consummate artistry.


Werewolf is in the TIFF 2016 Discovery program.