Werewolf (Ashley McKenzie, Canada) — Discovery

werewolf_02By Adam Nayman

The title’s a metaphor, of course. New Waterford-based Ashley McKenzie’s feature debut, after a string of sterling shorts, tracks two methadone-swigging wastrels whose chemical dependencies have them eking out a feral existence in small-town Nova Scotia. The narrative materials are generic—plenty of down-in-the-mouth Canadiana out there—but the filmmaking is vivid and specific. Smart visual choices abound: close-cropped Blais (Andrew Gillis) is introduced as a man literally at the end of his rope; his girlfriend Nessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) crumbles Oreos in an ice-cream shop contraption suggesting a Sisyphean cycle; a burdensome bit of equipment lugged to and fro makes the production’s debt to Rosetta (1999) and L’enfant  (2005) clear. What McKenzie is really borrowing from the Dardennes, though, is not the spare, festival-ready aesthetic—which is actually closer to Lucrecia Martel’s stylized sound design and bisected bodies—but a genuinely materialist sensibility, minus any traces of the brothers’ redemptive spirituality. There’s a bare minimum of junkie poetry here: addiction is not a tragic state of grace but just one more self-destructive compulsion among many, while the finely gradated interactions between the protagonists and different representatives of various institutional establishments place empathy and ambivalence side by side, where they belong.