Review: “My Animal”

Amandla Stenberg Stars In A Coming Of Age Queer Werewolf Drama With Bite

Being a teenager can be hard enough, but that notion gets taken to a whole new level in My Animal. Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) has always felt misunderstood, like an outcast. Living on the outskirts of a small town certainly does not help her feelings of loneliness. An isolated teenager in an isolated town is a recipe for trouble, and that’s before adding a family secret to the mix. Surrounding every full moon, Heather turns into a wolf. This has taken a toll on her family throughout the years, but they have managed to get by.

Heather’s father Henry (Stephen McHattie) is as caring and compassionate as ever. He is the glue holding the family together. Heather’s mother Patti (Hedi von Palleske) has not fared as well. She has slipped into alcoholism and Heather finds herself taking care of her mother more than the other way around. Heather’s two baby brothers Cooper (Charles Halpenny) and Hardy (Harrison Halpenny) share a passion for hockey and the siblings bond over it.

At the rink is where Heather meets Jonny (Amandla Stenberg). Jonny is a figure skater trapped in an abusive relationship. Jonny and Heather instantly gravitate towards each other as they find comfort in one another. As their relationship progresses, external and internal pressures mount. Relationships are difficult to manage without the looming worry of having to tell you partner you’re a werewolf. One second Heather has it all, and in the blink of an eye – nothing. She isn’t one to give up without a fight though.

Jacqueline Castel directed My Animal while Jae Matthews wrote the script. The film is the feature length debut for both Castel and Matthews, and an impressive debut at that. Many films have taken a stab at the werewolf story, but My Animal explores it from a distinct perspective. Castel and Matthews approach the tale through the lens of family and growth. How this type of ailment would affect a teenager struggling to fit in. What it would do to their family as well. The level of responsibility thrust upon a teenager in those rebellious years where kids just want to have fun is almost unfathomable. Heather didn’t choose this, but she must live with it. This powerful dynamic is rarely explored with films in this genre and My Animal provides a refreshing take.

Every detail throughout My Animal seemed to flow together cohesively. Castel’s use of lighting and shots tell a story in and of itself. Isolating images, erratic angles, disjointed shots – all mirroring the unease within the characters. Castel cleverly employs these elements along with distorted light and sound to show Heather’s transformation. We don’t need to see it happen to experience it. It’s okay to leave things to the imagination and Castel and Matthews excel at that aspect.

Menuez and Stenberg deliver strong performances and perfectly capture that teenage angst. Even during the highest of highs, there always seems to be a level of emptiness and sadness. My Animal doesn’t feature the typical thrills and gore seen in a werewolf film, focusing on the people. Those going into the viewing expecting a typical creature feature will be disappointed. My Animal is a powerful drama of experiences and growth within the world of werewolves. It is a coming-of-age story at its heart, only one where the stakes are raised. The performances, uniqueness, and camerawork certainly make My Animal worth a watch.

My Animal is available in theaters and digital now.