03rd Feb2023

Sundance 2023: ‘My Animal’ Review

by Jasmine Valentine

Stars: Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Stephen McHattie | Written by Jae Matthews | Directed by Jacqueline Castel

With her homelife hampered by an alcoholic mother and a hockey team who keeps her on the sidelines, Heather has a lot to grapple with — including the fact that she’s actually a werewolf. When she meets promising ice-skating star Jonny, Heather’s world turns upside down, willing to risk her own safety in the name of blossoming romance. As Jonny seems content to join her on the outskirts, Heather is left to battle the horrors that lie in wait within herself.

Werewolves… haven’t we seen them somewhere before? From Werewolf By Night to half of the cast of Twilight, it’s a trope film has visited countless times — and it could easily be argued that we don’t need to again. If a filmmaker is going to tackle one of the stereotypical genre cornerstones, they need to approach it with a fresh, zingy aplomb. Luckily for fans of supernatural horror, Jacqueline Castel’s My Animal does exactly that. Combining the typical plight of a teenage girl on the outskirts with a tantalising queer love story and a macabre domestic life, the film makes for heady, neon-lit self-discovery with a 1980s stylistic vibe that is truly to die for.

It’s worth pointing out that My Animal isn’t exactly an out-and-out horror. Moments of utter gore, screams, and thrills are few and far between, heavily relying on Heather’s internal drama to provide a sense of unease. For the most part it works, although this is largely down to how the film looks and feels. The 80s soundtrack is addictive and hypnotic, perfectly matching the skilled cinematography that conceals secrets and shines a light on harsh truths. Scenes of intimacy are uniquely shot in neon isolation, honing in on details that make the every day seem holier than thou. It’s Castel’s focus on hedonism and erotica that sets My Animal apart from its genre peers, adding a moody dimension to what could be an otherwise surface-level tale.

Fresh from her appearance in Bodies Bodies Bodies, it’s safe to say that Amandla Stenberg knows how to do horror. Jonny is both cool and calculating, taking Heather at face value before plunging her into a pit of self-abhorrence. Bobbi Salvör Menuez is nicely nuanced, but perhaps isn’t the starring focal point of what is essentially her own journey. The life Heather has immediately around her deserves plenty of the credit for making My Animal a standout, accented with a near-derelict ice-skating rink and an alcoholic mother who spits venom whenever approached. There are clear narrative journeys for all of the things except Heather, who possibly learns nothing more than how to tolerate her mother in a way that won’t hurt her.

As far as the horror genre is concerned, there need to be big lessons learned, and even bigger consequences faced. My Animal doesn’t really deliver on either, yet makes for a compelling and unique watch all on its own. Let’s put it this way — you’ll never look at egg yolks in the same way again.

*** 3/5

My Animal screened as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


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