Sundance 2023: ‘My Animal’: A Genre Melting Pot of Teen Self-Discovery


(Courtesy of The Sundance Institute)

By Zach Anderson, Arts Writer


My Animal” is a teen-wolf horror LGBTQ+ romance that follows hockey-playing werewolf Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez). Heather becomes an outcast due to her familial werewolf curse but finds comfort in the presence of figure skater Jonny (Amandla Stenberg). Together, they brew a romance, but as Heather’s home situation gets worse and Jonny’s abusive boyfriend tightens his grip, their secretive relationship becomes unsustainable. The plot is simpler than the superlatives used above let on, but this movie has many moving parts and pieces.

There are numerous layers of conflict in “My Animal,” with a myriad of things our hero triumphs through and things that the audience can sympathize with, but this is a double-edged sword. With no expansion of any of its core concepts, it feels like this film is having an identity crisis along with its main character. Nevertheless, “My Animal” is still a great film to give director Jacqueline Castel and writer Jae Matthews much-deserved career boosts.

Once in a Blue (or Blood) Moon

The most striking thing about “My Animal” is its thrilling sense of independence and originality. On the exterior, it has an A24-esque gloss of paint in the best way possible. The ‘80s synth soundtrack by Augustus Muller, the gritty, isolated mise-en-scene and the raunched-up dialogue reek of movies like “Uncut Gems” and “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” It doesn’t just copycat these films, but expounds on their formula with Castel and Matthews’ unmistakable voice. 

The number of genres this film touches seems a little ridiculous at first, but in practice, character development and plot points flow easily from scene to scene. There’s a common theme among all the films I’ve seen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This is the year of mish-mash filmmakers: filmmakers that smash seemingly unrelated things together with a miraculous result. In “My Animal,” they’ve mish-mashed something that’s truly one of a kind. Unfortunately, this is the film’s biggest downfall.

The Silver Bullet

Though main characters Heather and Jonny develop well under the weight of all its genres, the same could not be said for its side characters or themes. Trying to balance a family drama storyline along with all of its other plot threads leaves a major character, Heather’s dad Henry (Stephen McHattie), terribly sidelined. The only person that understands our protagonist and attempts to make an effort towards her well-being is underused in scenes where he is present. Henry is either taming his beastly family or is crudely shoved out of the scene by some other, more relevant character.

While all layers of conflict in this film are driven by Heather’s desire to be accepted by society, the movie abruptly ends with no clear thesis. Was Heather supposed to learn something from her werewolf-y journey? Was this a cautionary tale for the viewer? Did any of it matter at all? I found the answer to be unclear and dissatisfying.

If you’ve grown cynical over the lack of originality in popular media, “My Animal” might be the breath of fresh air you need, but be aware of its moody indecisiveness.


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