A familiar name at TIFF with her promising shorts, Ashley McKenzie has finally delivered her feature length debut, Werewolf. Following young couple Blaise (Andrew Gillis) and Vanessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) as they navigate the perils of love, poverty, addiction, and the many facets of while on the fringes of society as methadone users. The narrative friction is obvious, Vanessa seeks to better her life whereas for Blaise, the methadone treatment is merely another way to escape the bleakness of his own.
While the story has been done before, McKenzie does find strength in her images. Questioned by a counselor, Vanessa is asked whether or not she thinks her love for Blaise is pure, or rather an enabling tool? Vanessa is unable to imagine life without Blaise, yet to reclaim the possibility of having one she must abandon him. This frail and dying connection between the doomed lovers is wonderfully felt in the looming telephone cables and other twisted tethers that haunt the film (a rope, a gas siphoning hose, and a lawnmower pull cord to name a few).
Cinematographer Scott Moore consistently isolates and amputates the leads; full body conversations are told through a clenched fist, the arching of a back, or a half hidden face. By rarely photographing Vanessa and Blaise in full form, the characters are constructed through fragments, so that even when the entire profile is revealed they remain broken down. The performances of Gillis and MacNeil bolster this dread.
The highlight of the film is the original score by Youth Haunts (aka Devin Morrison). The music plays like a dark lullaby, provoking Werewolf to feel like a never ending nightmare stripped of its fantastical elements, or a cautionary children's tale of what to avoid whilst maturing. Scenes of an ice cream machine are linked to a methadone pump via Morrison's sound and match cuts by McKenzie. Suggesting that while Vanessa may have escaped her past, the torments of love, and the frustrations of addiction (be it drugs or Blaise), the reminders shall remain. A final posit that quitting doesn't always elicit the end.