Part monster horror and part teen romance, My Animal is sensual and raw. The Sundance 2023 selection follows Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez), a teen werewolf who finds herself ostracized from her small town not because she’s a werewolf, but because she’s queer. Her life crashes into Jonny’s (Amandla Stenberg), a figure skater who just moved to town. Heather and Jonny quickly become friends, but shit starts to go downhill when Heather finds herself falling for the new kid.
As much as I would’ve loved for My Animal to be a classic “she gets the girl in the end” queer film, the romance is only conducive in that it helps Heather figure out things about herself. It’s through her relationship with Jonny – the lustful, all-consuming, animalistic need to be with her – and the pain that follows that Heather finally confronts herself and stops fearing the beast within.
Jacqueline Castel‘s feature directorial debut is also endearingly energetic. My Animal is a coming-of-age story in with a through-line of love, identity, and acceptance of oneself – specifically, of coming to terms with your “otherness.” The story Castel wants to tell isn’t anything new; what is is her visual twists and overall means of presenting it.
That said, I would have loved if this world felt more lived in. My Animal‘s few bits of backstory and lore are so interesting that I can’t help but yearn for more of where the analogy started rather than where it ended. If you’re going to commit to werewolf as metaphor, you have to go all the way. However, I also love that it’s through the protagonist’s supernaturality that she finds her strength and fight back against these bigoted asshole antagonists.
Bobbi Salvör Menuez’s performance is, in a word, amazing. It doesn’t hit you all at once, since Heather is just as confused as we are, slowly figuring out what her deal is. But when it rains, it pours, and Menuez delivers powerfully. Amandla Stenberg is phenomenal as always: their ability to pull you right in is mesmerizing – and this is such a different performance from Bodies Bodies Bodies, though it still carries a queer foundation.
My Animal also uses red as a motif throughout, as lust and desire mix with animalistic instinct. Despite what you might expect from that, though, this is not a violent film – at least, not in the way you’d think. More than that, My Animal is transformative: it’s through violence that Heather finally accepts her identity. And then the film gets bloody and blinding, anger and pain mixing together to fight back.