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Tara Talbot (Victoria Sanchez) draws a crowd wherever it enters wolf girl. Everyone’s jaws naturally drop when she walks into the room. And all her life, Tara disagreed with the stares and gasps of others – after all, people pay good money to see the infamous “Wolf Girl” in the Harley Dune Traveling Freak Show. Something had changed in Tara, though. The social alienation that comes with her “werewolf syndrome” has finally caught up with her, and now she wishes she could be anything but different.
Although billed as a werewolf horror film, this Canadian-Romanian production quickly reveals itself as a coming-of-age tale with only isolated moments of horror to qualify its genre classification. Laurie Lansons” the script comes much closer to a gothic allegory with heavy psychological undertones. The story puts an emphasis not only on Tara’s longing and loneliness, but also on the inner workings of the characters on the other side of the cage, so to speak. Tom FitzgeraldIn the end, the film offers more food for thought than chills and thrills.
The title character of wolf girl is the object of gazes even before the show begins. As Tara and her fellow freaks pack everything into their final location, four local teenagers look on from nearby. These young troublemakers (Sean Ashmore, Shelby Fenner, Nate Dushku, Tony Denman) decide that Tara is the next target in their cruel games. Meanwhile, another teenager named Ryan (Dov Tiefenbach) there is something else entirely about Tara.
That first night business is at a standstill when Bo (Ashmore) and his lackeys pull a Carrie of Tara. During her performance on stage, Tara smears her face with fresh dog feces. However, unlike the students at Bates High, no one but the bullies laugh; the audience watches in confusion as Tara gradually realizes what has happened. Viewers can even sympathize because Tara’s speechless reaction, after previously being on all fours and you like a wolf inside a cage, reads as entirely human. No one here wants to feel sorry for the freak, much less identify with her humiliation. It is only when Tara resumes her beastly howl that the audience feels at ease again.
Tara’s thirst for ordinariness is now clearer than ever, which is why she accepts Ryan’s risky proposition almost immediately – testing his mother’s cosmetics has revealed a promising cure for excessive hair. The allegorical quality of wolf girl comes out when the suffering hero foolishly makes a deal to improve his life, but instead it invites more (and not to mention worse) trouble. The serum has not been tested and it is not known what side effects it may cause.
As Tara deals with the consequences of her actions, the film tries to argue that her life isn’t all that bad to begin with. From the beginning, Tara was surrounded by loved ones. Surrogate mother Athena (Darlene Cates) detects the girl’s sadness early and expresses anger towards anyone who might harm her. Grace JonesChristophe-Christine was also born into the business and sees only beauty in Tara, hair or not. The whole freak show stops early to find Tara when they fear she’s gone missing. And when Tara’s biological mother abandoned her, Harley (Tim Curry) raised the baby as his own. Compared to other young people in wolf girl, Tara at least has a supportive family looking out for her. Bo and his friends are left unattended, hence the gun they wave around, and Ryan’s mother doesn’t even notice her son’s bruised eye.
wolf girl isn’t exactly without its claws when it comes to violence and murder, but these bloodier cases are rare. They’re not even what make the film so uncomfortable. The story pulls a few shocking buttons to keep both the freakshow audience and you equally surprised. There’s an exploitation factor to Hartley’s artists that won’t sit well. It is doubtful that this kind of film would be made today, given the background. Then there are the revelations about the bullies; Bo and Crystal (Fenner) come up with aha moments explaining why they are so evil. The uninitiated will no doubt be startled by parts of this cheeky hidden gem.
Admittedly, the story lacks character development; no one grows completely out of their time wolf girl. They all endure the change to some degree and certainly feel the sting of their wrong choices, but as far as growth goes, Tara and everyone else only stay the same because the movie ends too soon. Realizations come late and are never explored afterwards. Bo learns what it feels like to be seen as a freak, Hartley admits that it was wrong to put business before family, and most of all, Tara discovers that she lost something more important in her quest to be normal – her humanity.
wolf girl is a welcome addition to the wide and uneven world of werewolf horror. It doesn’t necessarily have the teeth of its bloodier peers, nor does it inspire real fear, but this film has plenty of guts. The gripping story reveals the inside of the main character so heartbreakingly. While other werewolf tales would prefer to focus on the beast’s trials, wolf girl makes the right choice and considers the pain of the person below.
Horrors elsewhere is a recurring column that focuses on various films from around the world, especially those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is certain — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.