Review: ‘My Animal’ (2023), starring Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Heidi von Palleske, Cory Lipman, Charles F. Halpenny, Harrison W. Halpenny and Stephen McHattie

September 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Amandla Stenberg and Bobbi Salvör Menuez in “My Animal” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Global Content Distribution)

“My Animal” (2023)

Directed by Jacqueline Castel

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ontario, Canada, the horror film “My Animal” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one biracial person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in her late teens, who is secretly a werewolf, has a sexual awakening as a lesbian and gets into a love triangle with the woman she wants to be her lover.

Culture Audience: “My Animal” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in LGBTQ-themed horror movies, but don’t expect there to be much of an interesting story.

Amandla Stenberg and Bobbi Salvör Menuez in “My Animal” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Global Content Distribution)

“My Animal” tries and fails to be an edgy werewolf movie. The plot is clumsy, boring, and unimaginative. The acting performances are very uneven. Almost nothing about this horror movie is actually scary or intriguing. The movie’s plot seems more like an outline than a truly cinematic story. “

Directed by Jacqueline Castel (her feature-film debut) and written by Jae Matthews, “My Animal” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The movie was filmed on location in the Canadian province of Ontario. At times, “My Animal” doesn’t even seem like a horror movie because so much of it is a lukewarm and repetitive story about a love triangle.

In “My Animal,” introverted Heather (played by Bobbi Salvör Menuez) is a semi-closeted lesbian She is about 18 or 19 years old and has dreams of becoming a professional hockey player. Her room is covered with posters and pictures of female bodybuilders. In case is isn’t clear that Heather has a thing for female athletes, there’s a scene early in the movie that shows Heather masturbating while watching female wrestlers on TV.

Heather lives with her divorced mother Patti (played by Heidi von Palleske) and Heather’s identical twin brothers Cooper (played by Charles F. Halpenny) and Hardy (played by Harrison W. Halpenny), who are about 14 or 15 years old. The children’s estranged father Henry (played Stephen McHattie) is not involved in raising them. It’s implied that he’s a deadbeat dad.

“My Animal” shows viewers from the very beginning of the movie that Heather as a big secret: She’s a werewolf, which she inherited from her father. In the movie’s opening scene, a full moon is out an night. Heather hunches down on all fours as her nose starts bleeding, and then she runs out of the house. Patti goes out and looks for Heather in the snowy woods, but then Patti is attacked by a wild animal.

It’s not hard to know that this wild animal is Heather as a werewolf, because Patti is next seen in bed recovering from her injuries and has a scar on the right side of her body. Heather tucks Patti into bed and doesn’t talk about what happened in the attack. Other than being a werewolf, Heather leads a boring and empty life where she has no friends and she’s not school or working

Someone soon catches the interest of Heather: an extroverted woman who’s around the same age named Jonine, nicknamed Johnnie (played by Amandla Stenberg), who is an aspiring professional ice skater. Heather first sees Johnnie stealing beer at a corner convenience store. They make eye contact but don’t say anything to each other, and Heather doesn’t try to stop Johnnie from shoplifting.

After this theft, Johnnie gets in a car with her 28-year-old boyfriend Rick (played by Cory Lipman), who is a local baseball star. He’s also a hoodlum with a bad temper who’s been banned from the corner convenience store because he once tried to rob it. There’s another scene in the movie where Rick gets thrown out of a casino for being threatening and belligerent.

It’s already revealed in the trailer for “My Animal” that Heather and Johnnie become lovers. However, it’s a secretive affair because Johnnie doesn’t want to break up with Rick and doesn’t want him to find out that she’s been cheating on him. This tedious love triangle drags on in the movie until you know exactly what’s going to happen because Rick is a jerk and Heather is a werewolf.

Not much is revealed about Heather’s and Johnnie’s personal backstories. Johnnie mentions to Heather that Johnnie’s mother died by suicide. Heather’s mother Patti is addicted to alcohol and often climbs into Heather’s bed and urinates on herself. Johnnie’s father knows that Heather and Johnnie are sexually involved with each other, and he doesn’t approve. The acting in “My Animal” is nothing special.

As for the werewolf part of the story, the movie doesn’t do a very good job of making it interesting. Everything is utterly predictable and told with a lackluster tone. There’s a lot of cinematography that bathes the scenes in red light, but that’s not enough to make a horror movie terrifying. The ending of “My Animal” is so bland and anti-climactic, it makes this unimpressive movie even more forgettable than it should have been.

Review: ‘Most Wanted,’ starring Antoine Olivier Pilon, Jim Gaffigan and Josh Hartnett

July 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Antoine Olivier Pilon and Jim Gaffigan in “Most Wanted” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Most Wanted”

Directed by Daniel Roby

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada and Thailand, the dramatic film “Most Wanted” features a cast of white people and Asians representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash:  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police target a young male heroin addict to set up a major drug sting in Thailand, but the botched sting lands the addict in a Thai prison, while a Canadian investigative journalist works to uncover police corruption and to help exonerate the prisoner.

Culture Audience: “Most Wanted” will appeal primarily to people who like heavy-handed dramas about international investigative journalism and the war on drugs.

Antoine Olivier Pilon and Josh Hartnett in “Most Wanted” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Most Wanted” (formerly titled “Target Number One”) is one of those “crusading journalist” movies “inspired by a true story” that gives the impression that it inflates the importance of the journalist, who just happens to be a paid consultant for the film in real life. Written and directed in a choppy and disjointed manner by Daniel Roby, “Most Wanted” is elevated by an emotionally impactful performance by Antoine Olivier Pilon. But the film is too long (a little more than two hours) and a paint-by-numbers drama about a journalist determined to uncover police corruption while trying to free a wrongly imprisoned inmate.

The movie’s several flashbacks are not shown in chronological order. People unfamiliar with the “true story” before seeing this film might be confused by all of these flashbacks. It’s mentioned in the film’s epilogue that there were several scenes that did not happen in real life but were in the film for dramatic purposes.

Essentially, the purpose of the movie is to make real-life Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (played by Josh Hartnett) look like a hero, while almost everyone he’s investigating is involved in enough sleazy and corrupt activities that the movie makes it look like they all deserved to be exposed by Victor. The movie has Victor jumping back and forth between the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, and later Thailand, for his investigations.

Victor is portrayed as a cocky workaholic who’s obsessed with being the first journalist to scoop everyone else on major investigative stories. The beginning of the movie takes place in 1989, when Victor worked as a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, and as a part-time TV journalist at a local Toronto station. Victor’s TV interviewing style is the epitome of “gotcha journalism,” since he loves to make his interview subjects squirm when he catches them off-guard with tough questions.

It’s also shown in the movie that Victor isn’t just doing these investigations for the greater good of humanity. He also wants fame and glory for his investigations. He loves being on camera. And he doesn’t just want to get news scoops. He expects his stories for the newspaper to be on the front page.

In the Globe and Mail newsroom, Victor argues with his long-suffering editor Arthur (played by JC MacKenzie), who tells this narcissistic journalist that Victor is on the verge of being fired because Victor hasn’t turned in an assignment in two months. Victor says that his investigations often take months to complete. Arthur tells Victor that he will be demoted to being a stringer/freelancer unless he delivers one article a week, and it doesn’t matter if the articles cover easy topics. Victor shouts back, “It’s not about money! It’s about my process!”

Being an abrasive and aggressive journalist has made Victor some enemies, so he’s used to getting death threats or other threats to his safety. However, something has changed in Victor’s life that has made him think twice about how his work might affect his personal life. His wife Anna (played by Amanda Crew) has recently given birth to their first child, a daughter. Like a lot of cliché wife roles in this kind of movie, Anna’s only purpose is to sit around looking worried and scold her husband when he lets his work obsessions negatively affect their life at home.

Meanwhile, a French Canadian recovering heroin addict in his mid-20s named Daniel Léger (played by Pilon) has just completed a work program in a British Columbia forest. He’s been paid by check, but he doesn’t have a bank account to cash it, and there are no banks or check-cashing places nearby. When he goes to a convenience store near the forest, Daniel buys some things, but he has no cash with him.

Daniel calls his mother to ask him to read his credit card number over the phone so that he can pay for the items. His mother refuses, and Daniel promises her that he’s not buying drugs. Daniel tells the store clerk that he’ll be right back to get some cash. Instead, Daniel steals the items and takes off on his motorcycle, with the clerk chasing after him to no avail.

Needless to say, Daniel falls right back into drug addiction after he was clean and sober for six months. One of his junkie friends named Michael (played by Frédéric Millaire Zouvi) introduces Daniel to another drug addict named Glen Picker (played by Jim Gaffigan), who has a houseboat that Glen uses for commercial fishing and tourist excursions. But how Glen really makes most of his money is through drug dealing and by being a confidential informant for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Seeing that Daniel is broke, homeless and desperate, Glen offers a grateful Daniel a job as his apprentice.

“Most Wanted” takes a long, convoluted time to get to the heart of the story, including an unnecessary detour that shows Daniel dating a pawn-shop clerk named Mary (played by Rose-Marie Perreault), in a drug-fueled relationship that ends up going nowhere. When Glen finds out that Daniel was arrested in Thailand for a drug deal, Glen foolishly believes Michael’s exaggeration that Daniel has major drug connections in Thailand. Michael even has a nickname for Daniel: Thailand Party Guy. Daniel doesn’t really correct this exaggerated perception of his clout in the drug-dealing world.

Glen passes along this information to an overzealous RCMP federal agent named Barry Cooper (played by Stephen McHattie), who’s close to retirement and eager to make one last major drug bust before he retires. Under Barry’s direction, Canada’s federal police pressure Daniel to set up a major drug deal in Thailand. Glen also has high expectations for Daniel to deliver a big drug deal to the feds.

In reality, Daniel only knows one small-time drug dealer in Thailand. Even though Daniel’s passport was confiscated due to his previous drug bust in Thailand, he’s able to get his passport returned to him, now that he’s secretly working with the Canadian government. Barry and other Canadian federal agents—including Barry’s ambitious son Al Cooper (played by Cory Lipman), who’s still a trainee—arrange to take a trip to Thailand with Daniel to set up what the feds think will be a major drug bust.

But things go horribly wrong. Daniel and some local Thai drug dealers are arrested by Thai police. During Daniel’s court hearings in Thailand, the Canadian government misleads the judge into thinking that Daniel is someone else with the same last name who has an arrest record in Canada. In reality, Daniel does not have an arrest record in Canada, but he’s been advised to plead guilty or else he will get the death penalty.

Daniel is sentenced to 100 years in prison. And somewhere in the jumbled way that this story is told in the movie, investigative journalist Victor takes it upon himself to try to get justice for Daniel. “Most Wanted” takes too long (about two-thirds of the film) showing how Daniel ended up wrongly imprisoned in Thailand. By the time the prison scenes are shown, they look rushed and shoved in as an after-thought.

And it’s too bad, because the best scenes in the movie are of Daniel’s plight in the Thai prison and what he does to survive. As Daniel, Pilon does a particularly credible performance in portraying the terror yet self-preservation that Daniel experiences while in the custody of Thai law enforcement.

Gaffigan, who usually has comedic roles, is also quite impressive in his performance as greedy confidential informant Glen, but this character is written in such a one-dimensional, sleazy way that Gaffigan doesn’t have much to do to go beyond this shallowness. Hartnett, who isn’t very remarkable in his role as Victor, has played this type of swaggering egomaniac before in other movies, so it’s not much of an acting stretch for him. And the Canadian federal agents are written as bumbling fools, so the actors in those roles are confined to playing these stereotypes.

“Most Wanted” would have been improved by cutting out a lot of the filler scenes leading up to Daniel’s imprisonment and giving audiences more insightful views of how he suffered and persevered while he spent years in a Thai prison. For example, there could have been more shown of the relationships that Daniel had inside the Thai prison system that helped him with his daunting task of appealing his case.

There’s only a hint of the type of allies that Daniel must have had in the prison, as exemplified by a Thai prisoner named Sin (played by Konglar Kanchanahoti), who helps Daniel with some important favors. “Most Wanted” didn’t have to be a “Midnight Express” type of movie, but the prison scenes are so late in the film, that it defeats the purpose of making this wrongful imprisonment the center of the story.

“Most Wanted” also erases anyone besides Victor who helped Daniel outside of the Thai prison system. For example, the movie doesn’t show any attorneys who would have been necessary for Daniel’s quest to get released from prison. The movie is so hell-bent on making Victor look like the only hero who can save Daniel, that it cheapens the story by giving an unrealistic portrayal of the legal process in Daniel’s case.

And what does the movie show Victor doing during Daniel’s prison ordeal? Visiting/interviewing Daniel once in the Thai prison and writing an article published in Canada about Daniel’s wrongful imprisonment. Victor also puts his wife and daughter into hiding in the home of a fellow journalist friend named Norm (played by Don McKellar), while Victor experiences more threats from government types who tell him to stop snooping around.

In one scene that will make people roll their eyes, Victor tells Emma that she has to be patient while “I save the world.” It’s too bad that it’s too late to save this movie from its hokey melodrama that clutters the story with unnecessary gibberish and leaves out a lot of important details.

Saban Films released “Most Wanted” on VOD on July 24, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “Most Wanted” on digital and Blu-ray on September 22, 2020.

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