Film Review: WEREWOLF (Canada 2016) ***

werewolf.jpgDirector: Ashley McKenzie
Writer: Ashley McKenzie
Stars: Andrew Gillis, Kyle M. Hamilton, Bhreagh MacNeil

Review by Gilbert Seah

Cape Breton filmmaker Ashley McKenzie, who has won prizes for her short films in the past debuts here with an impressive first feature – a low budget but no-holds barred look at the hardscrabble existence of two homeless, twentysomething recovering drug addicts. Or are they recovering?

Films on the this topic are never an easy watch. WEREWOLF isn’t one too. 2016 saw the arrival of several drug centred films, the best of these being documentaries like the British CHEMSEX by directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty and the more recent THE STAIRS by Hugh Gibson. The decision for a fictional feature instead of a doc allows McKenzie to go deeper into the problem of drug users and guide the film to a more satisfying ending.

The drug users are the couple Vanessa and Blaise (Bhreagh MacNeil and Andrew Gillis). Both are in the process of rehabilitation but they still partake of the substance as part of a government program details not given. The film follows them as they sleep in tents,and fight with government bureaucrats. Blaise and Vanessa survive primarily through an underground economy. They harass people to let them cut their grass with a rusty old mower they haul over dirt roads and through rainstorms.

Of the two, Blaise is the more hostile, often negative about everything and always provoking whoever he is speaking to. He is suicidal and a bad influence on Vanessa. She, on the other hand, works at an soft ice-cream parlour and is largely positive, despite her dull job. She is advised by her social worker to breakup with Blaise, which she does not.

The film describes the lives of both with no positive or negative ending. This might be frustrating for those awaiting a happy ending such as the recovery of the couple – but this is what life is, no happy endings. The audience is understandably more sympathetic towards Vanessa than to Blaise.

McKenzie’s camera is fond of close-ups. In fact, there are too much of it. Often the audience sees the bad acne on the side of Vanessa’s face, a symptom of the effects of taking methadone. One wishes that the camera would occasionally pull back to show the whole picture. The film also contains lots of jittery images, from the use of hand held camera. Again, a few steady shots using a tripod would be welcome.

Ultimately, the success of the film depends on the two main leads, who thankfully achieves the credibility the film needs. One is the good rehab patient, the other not. just like the good cop, bad cop. It is difficult to feel sorry for Blaise for being such the self-destructive character and also occasionally for Vanessa who one wishes should take the advice of her social worker and leave Blaise. There is clearly no simple way out of addiction, especially without a good roof over their heads and a decent paying job. And then there is the temptation to go back to meth again.

McKenzie could also have provided more information about the rehabilitation program the couple is undergoing. Not much information is provided, but what they go through as seen in their actions. WEREWOLF is definitely a disturbing film and despite it having fictional characters, the film still hits home pretty hard with brutal honesty.


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