Nessa (Breagh MacNeil) and Blaise (Andrew Gillis) are close. They’re also recovering methadone addicts. This might sound bourgeois. But some people in the audience might assume that recovering as a couple might work like any wellness challenge might. But apparently it’s harder for couples to recover, especially one as codependent as Nessa and Blaise seemingly are. Director Ashley McKenzie portrays them as body parts glued together with summer sweat.
Nessa has her share of close-ups but Blaise’s face and voice combine as a looming presence. Part of the reason they can’t recover is because he’s a toxic presence in her life. He would joke about how she would have to perform acts to get the money they need for methadone. This is a merciless depiction of an addict which might remind audiences of those people in their past lives.
Werewolf shows the potential in McKenzie’s visuals, its first sequence proving how efficient her storytelling is. There’s a dirty, off-white palette to the cinematography during the early scenes. These are purposely aesthetically unpleasing and accomplishes that effect. Congratulations, sure. But as her movie progresses, she would show her lead characters through obtuse angles. She’s almost hiding them as they move around their spaces. There’s something frustrating about her framing.
This is a more claustrophobic version of the Dardennes movies. Both directors show white people on the fringes of society trying to be normal. McKenzie, doing her part, exposes her fascinations, which included people’s relationship with machines. Nessa becomes an ice cream vendor who at first doesn’t know how to work the swirl machine. There’s a symbolism and comparisons here between dessert and her former habit that surprisingly works.
As Nessa works, Blaise steals her methadone. The soundtrack of the video games he plays with their friends plays in the background. Here the movie’s archetypes start to show, as a woman deals with her deadbeat boyfriend. There’s truth to archetype, but there’s something about Blaise’s characterization that still makes for uncomfortable viewing. Maybe his familiarity works to that effect. Gillis does his best to bring that archetype alive.
That said, when McKenzie gets is right, it’s right. The colours gets brighter eventually, if only a bit. And her message when she does this subtle switch isn’t the obvious answer. Recovery is around the corner, but it’s in the overtly sanitary places like clinics and workplaces. Nessa chooses one trap over another. She is in a place that can’t make her happy but she’s still better off than before.
Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf is streaming at Mubi as part of their retrospective of new Canadian Cinema. After reading our reviews, go to Mubi to see Canada’s festival darlings.
- Release Date: 7/20/2018