My Animal: Unleashing The Beast Within

My Animal tells the story of Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez), a teenage girl who yearns to play for her local hockey team. However, in this male-dominated town, she is kept at bay simply because she ‘isn’t a boy’. Things begin to change for Heather though when she meets Jonny (Amandla Stenberg), an attractive figure skater who instantly catches Heather’s eye. As the two girls draw closer to one another, Heather struggles to hide her own personal secrets whether it’s her hidden sexual orientation or her alcoholic mother. Most threatening of all, though, is her devastating family curse that causes her to morph into a feral wolf whenever there’s a full moon. 

Directed by Jacqueline Castel and written by Jae Matthews, My Animal is a smartly written coming-of-age story that uses its horror elements to bear thematic teeth. Tapping into the frozen surroundings of remote Timmins, Castel infuses the film with a frigid feel. This ensures that her colour tones reflect the nature of the relationships between characters. For example, by filling the screen with heavy darkness and cool whites, Animal is meant to feel like a world where interactions are as cold as the temperatures. However, as things begin to heat up in Heather’s personal life, those cooler colours melt into bleeding reds that pop onscreen. 

Of course, much of the film’s success lies with some strong work from its two young leads. As Heather, Menuez portrays their character with a unique blend of innocence and heat. As a young woman torn between worlds, one can sense the confusion within her. Whether she’s fleeing her inner beast or her own heart, Menuez plays Heather as a young woman who simply feels lost under the veil of secrecy. However, Menuez’s performance is further brought to life by a confident Stenberg. When together, Stenberg draws Menuez out of the shadows into a world of strength and courage. These are the scenes that work most effectively as the two have genuine connection with one another.

In this way, My Animal taps into the raw sexuality of youth. Using Heather’s feral-tendencies as a metaphor, Animal bites into the terrifying nature of wrestling with one’s desire, especially when those around fail to understand or accept you. For instance, Heather’s transformations cause her to be covered by a blanket of shame. While her father may be empathetic, her mother demands secrecy in order to spare the family further embarrassment. This is simply a part of who Heather is, yet her mother offers no acceptance for her daughter. As a result, she hides herself away from the world, praying that those around her do not find out. 

She and her family know the truth—but they fear the damage that could be done if she’s discovered.

Similarly, Heather’s sexuality also remains a well-kept secret. As she grows closer to Jonny, her desire cannot be denied yet she fears bearing her soul to another person. The very thought of exposing her heart brings fear and trembling. What if she’s rejected by her potential love? (Or, in a question that’s almost as scary to her, what if she isn’t?) In both worlds, Heather carries a hunger within her.

And, in both worlds, she feels powerless to reveal herself.

It’s this inner struggle that’s the true horror of My Animal. As Heather attempts to conceal the beast inside, her journey resonates with anyone who has found themselves wrestling with their desires. In her transformations, there is danger—yet it’s also a part of herself that cannot be denied. As she begins to put the pieces together, the danger never fully disappears. Even so, by leaning into her fears of what lies beneath, she may become more confident to unleash the Animal within.

To hear our interview with writer/director Jacqueline Castel, click here.

My Animal is available in theatres on Friday, December 1st, 2023.

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