Anyone expecting My Animal to be a conventional horror movie will be disappointed – or delighted. Director Jacqueline Castel and writer Jae Matthews have made an LBGT-themed romance that just happens to contain a few horror elements around the edges. The impact of that is significant, helping to convey the exhilarating fear the main character feels in connecting with another person, especially knowing her family members might not approve.
Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) lives in a small town in what appears to be the late 1980s or so. She’s an aspiring hockey goalie, kept out of the game because the local coach doesn’t want females playing on his team. Father Henry (Stephen McHattie) advocates for her. At the rink, she meets Jonny (Amandla Stenberg), a figure skater who’s dating a macho jerk named Rick (Cory Lipman). A clear attraction forms despite the relationship, although we sense Jonny is perhaps driven by curiosity more than anything. Heather, meanwhile, can barely contain her emotions, particularly when her drunken mother Patti (Heidi von Palleske) starts weighing in.
The horror angle is represented by the fact that Heather, like Henry, can transform into a wolf. Not a werewolf, per se, but a wolf, nonetheless. My Animal introduces that idea in the beginning, then sets it aside until the end. The metaphor is still clear – just as Heather must embrace her wolf-ness, so must she also embrace her sexuality.
That’s an interesting storytelling approach, and it works because the movie is much more about the love story than about the transformation. Heather’s relationship with Jonny stirs a lot of things up inside, from hope to lust to, at one point, anger. She has never experienced this sensation before. Castel homes in on how alive their rapport makes her feel. The lycanthrope aspect represents the internal awakening as Jonny rocks her world. Menuez gives a quietly commanding performance, nicely capturing the way Heather’s life abruptly changes from black-and-white to color.
She also has good chemistry with Stenberg. We believe the bond that grows between the characters because of the authentic chemistry they develop together. Castel often bathes the stars in red light, most powerfully during a stylishly staged sex scene, to create an ambiance that signifies Heather’s passion, as well as the feral wolf lurking within. Plenty of movies have romances and hookups. Few have one as alluring as the one here.
My Animal does take a little while to get going, and Rick is a bit too stereotypical to be a fully effective antagonist. Otherwise, it’s an atmospheric, affecting coming-of-age film about the blossoming of a wolf-woman.
out of four
My Animal is rated R for language throughout, sexual content, nudity, some drug use, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.