Intimate yet aestheticized, Canadian director Ashley McKenzie's debut feature Werewolf presents a tale of addiction and love through images that both limit our vision and force us to see things anew. Its story may be thin, its characters not particularly original, but McKenzie's use of cinematic language is savvy and novel, finding complexity where others might find only emptiness.
When we first meet Nessa (mesmerizing newcomer Bhreagh MacNeil) and Blaise (Andrew Gillis), two young methadone addicts living on Cape Breton Island, they're spending their time pushing a rickety lawnmower door to door, offering to cut people's grass for $15 a pop. Nobody's fooling anybody, however, about what’s going on: These two are clearly strung out, and most of their prospective customers want nothing to do with them. Nessa and Blaise regularly go to the methadone clinic for their dose, and McKenzie effectively conveys the impersonal, regimented nature of this ritual by fragmenting their close-ups through the dispensary window.
Much of Werewolf follows the couple’s separation and increasing desperation after their lawnmower breaks down and Nessa takes a job at an ice cream shop. But even that description suggests more drama than what appears onscreen for most of the film. McKenzie isn't interested so much in conventional interactions as she is in following patterns and rhythms and telling details. By tackling her material through visual patterns and metaphors, McKenzie finds interesting ways to express ideas that in more conventional hands might feel like cliches. There isn't a lot of overt emotion in Werewolf, but connect with this talented new director’s unorthodox style, and you may find yourself deeply moved.