Discovery

Werewolf

Ashley McKenzie

The hardscrabble existence of two homeless, twentysomething drug addicts is portrayed with sensitivity and brutal honesty in the debut feature by Ashley McKenzie.

The hardscrabble existence of two homeless, twentysomething drug addicts is portrayed with sensitivity and brutal honesty in Ashley McKenzie's Werewolf. Doggedly and courageously refusing to sentimentalize the lives of its characters, McKenzie's debut feature is shot almost entirely in extreme and oblique close-ups to capture the disorientation and frustration of her characters, a style reminiscent of Lodge Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven and the work of Toronto minimalists like Kazik Radwanski and Igor Drljaca.

Nessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) is a waif lost in a harsh world she lacks the tools to deal with. Blaise (Andrew Gillis) is another matter: a creature of impulses with little patience and a chip on his shoulder, he seems to feed off his own pain and hysteria, fighting with everyone (save Nessa) given the slightest provocation.

Sleeping in tents, fighting with government bureaucrats and clinic doctors, the couple survives primarily through an underground economy, pleading with (and sometimes harassing) people to let them cut their grass with a rusty old lawnmower they haul across dirt roads and through rainstorms. (McKenzie captures the futility, toil, and frustration of this existence with startling power, portraying them almost like a crack-addled version of the Stations of the Cross.)

Central to Werewolf's success is the nuanced development of its characters: it's a testament to McKenzie and the stellar performances of her two leads that Nessa and Blaise inspire empathy in us even as we find their actions perplexing and troubling. Powerful and moving, Werewolf confirms the promise of McKenzie's lauded short films.

STEVE GRAVESTOCK

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