MUBI Movies: WEREWOLF (2016)

Drug addiction can make a monster of us… or reveal the beast already inside.

MUBI is a streaming service catering to cinephiles who believe in quality over quantity. Each day, MUBI adds a new film to its library, where it will stay for 30 days, after which it circulates out and gives room for another new entry. Throughout 2018, we will highlight one MUBI movie per month to help illustrate the catalog’s breadth and importance.

Opioid addiction is a terrible, transformative affliction, something that ravishes impoverished communities as those addicted will give up everything to get themselves to the next high. Methadone treatments are designed to alleviate that suffering, offering an alternative that can be weaned from so that the shock of withdrawal doesn't kill the patient. But the process of getting clean is a torturous one, and the emotional toll it takes is enough to cause many people to relapse or give up entirely. One would think that going through this alone would be the greatest suffering of all, but Werewolf shows the brutal reality of trying to get clean as a couple, where one person can become a beast at the expense of the other's well-being.

Nessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) and Blaise (Andrew Gillis) get by through mowing lawns, their only possession being a lawnmower they power by siphoning gas from nearby cars. Homeless and without a steady source of food, their money all goes toward paying for their methadone treatments, doled out in singular does that are consumed greedily and without hesitation. Nessa is serious about getting clean, hoping to move to a nearby town and get a steady job, but Blaise is a bit less concerned about change, keeping Nessa around as a crutch so that he doesn't need to take any further steps toward sobriety.

Blaise is an emotional abuser. He does not physically harm Nessa, but she takes on the majority of the physical labor in their workday. Blaise apparently has the excuse that he tires easily from his addiction, but Nessa is seemingly just as tired as he is, and Blaise's exhaustion is more convenient than not. We also see that Blaise is a perpetual manipulator, using guilt as a blunt cudgel when dealing with authorities who don't give him what he wants, often to little success with anyone but Nessa. She is the one person whom he believes will always be there to support him, though support in his mind is dealing with and enabling his worst tendencies. Whether his behaviors are a result of his addiction or are defects in his personality, he shifts from loving boyfriend to conniving monster without the necessity of the full moon.

Nessa, meanwhile, finds growth in getting out. She finds solace in stepping away from Blaise's influence, earning money at a food truck serving ice cream. Director Ashley McKenzie keeps focus away from Nessa during these moments of mindless work, but instead on the machines she uses, circular and driven by repetitive motion, a loss of self that mutes the perpetual struggle of Nessa's cravings for methadone and Blaise's abuse. Like many victims of abuse, she feels complicit in her abuse and responsible for her abuser's well-being, only realizing late in the game that it's that sense of responsibility which Blaise exploits. It's a familiar story for anyone who has experience with abusive partnerships, and the question lingers like a dark cloud over the narrative: will Nessa manage to stay away?

Werewolf is a tight and modest eighty minutes, a brief essay on suffering and codependence that demonstrates McKenzie’s directorial talents in her first freshman feature. Emotionally disturbing and authentic, this is a film that exemplifies the potential of the woman behind the camera by showing the potential of a woman in a harrowing circumstance taking the first steps toward recovery. McKenzie deftly shows that sometimes the monsters we need to fear are the ones who purport to love us most, using love as a cage to keep us from recovering from the pain they inflict. There are few harder truths.

You can watch Werewolf here.