With the state of things these days, Fantastic Fest has gone virtual for 2020, and here are my thoughts on two of the films that helped kick off the festivities this week: Teddy, from the directing duo of Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, and Girl, which features both Bella Thorne and Mickey Rourke.
Teddy: As someone who has a deep love for anything lycanthrope-related, I really enjoyed what Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma were able to do with Teddy. The film hits all the beats you’d expect from a coming-of-age werewolf story, but the directors come at these tropes in a very unique way, making Teddy a thoughtful and heartfelt examination of a young man who has lost his place in this world that also delivers up some gnarly body horror moments and a sizeable body count to boot.
The film follows the titular character (played by Anthony Bajon) who lives in a remote village in France. He’s got a bit of an anarchist streak to him, but what Teddy really wants to do is settle down with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Christine Gautier), build them a dream home, and find a decent job so they can start to build their lives together. But after being attacked by an unknown entity in the woods, Teddy starts exhibiting a variety of strange behaviors (and body hair in unique places), which can only mean one thing: poor Teddy is slowly transforming into a werewolf, and anyone who happens to cross him should think twice about getting on his bad side.
If you’re looking for a very wolf-centric experience, Teddy isn’t really that, as it’s more character-driven than it is monster-driven. But by doing that, the Boukherma brothers manage to give viewers something a bit out of the ordinary with the film in general, and I can always appreciate filmmakers who are smart about what they should show versus what they need to show, and Teddy proves that there are clever ways to make a werewolf movie without needing a ton of special effects sequences. That’s not to say the movie is lacking in special effects, as there is one spectacular sequence involving Teddy (as a wolf) slaughtering dozens of villagers, leaving lots of blood-soaked bodies in his wake. There are also several cringe-inducing moments of body horror in Teddy that stood out as being rather unique as well, with one involving a tongue, and that was something I certainly have never seen in a film before.
While comparisons to An American Werewolf in London are definitely applicable here, I’d say that some other comparable cinematic experiences to Teddy would be Carrie and any of the classic Universal Monster movies as well. The great thing about Teddy is that for as much as it has a hint of familiarity to it, Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma blaze their own trail here, with Bajon acting as the emotional anchor to the story, and his performance in Teddy is as endearing as it is wholly compelling. I’m a big fan of whenever directors can take our favorite monsters and do something very different with their recognizable elements (like The Transfiguration, which came out a few years ago), and I think Teddy stands out as a darkly funny yet heartbreaking entry in the pantheon of modern werewolf movies.
Movie Score: 4/5
Girl: For his first feature film, writer/director Chad Faust (who also co-stars in this project as well) has crafted a grungy slice of small town noir with Girl, a twisted tale of revenge and deception that is led by a stunningly superlative performance from Bella Thorne, who demonstrates here why she just might be one of the most intriguing actresses of her generation. While the story might get a bit repetitive at times, there are shades of brilliance peppered throughout Girl, making it one of the most promising directorial debuts to come along in 2020.
In Girl, we follow Thorne’s character (whose name is never offered up, so she is just credited here as “Girl”) as she embarks on a trip to visit her deadbeat dad, who has been dodging his child support payments for years and has been threatening to kill her Mama (Elizabeth Saunders) as well. When she arrives in the rundown community that her father resides in, she crosses paths with an assortment of intriguing locals who all seem to know more than they’re willing to let on. And as Thorne’s character sets out to make her estranged father pay for his misdeeds, she discovers that someone has beat her to the punch, and it’s up to “Girl” to figure out just what exactly happened to her dad and who exactly was behind his untimely demise.
While the focus of Girl is primarily centered around the mystery of just who killed her dad, and the secrets that families keep throughout generations, the heart of this story is really about a young woman who wants to figure out just who exactly her father is, and how she will stop at nothing until she gets the answers she so desperately needs. And while I enjoyed all the crime thriller elements of Girl, it was the journey that Thorne’s character takes in this movie that really resonated the most with me personally, as someone who never knew her father and has long searched for answers, to no avail.
Girl definitely has an excellent sense of pacing to it, and the tension that propels Faust’s narrative forward is palpable from start to finish. The way he pulls back the layers on the characters and the story of Girl proves that Faust has learned a lot during his nearly two decades of working as an actor in this industry, too. I also really enjoyed the way he focuses on the characters throughout this story, not only allowing them time to “breathe” on screen, but also giving them plenty of exceptional material to work with here, proving that Faust recognizes that one of the greatest assets to any film is allowing your cast to come in and just do the work. And man, does the cast of Girl get the job done.
I’ve never really had any strong opinions about Thorne’s performances throughout her career, but she’s absolutely revelatory in Girl, as this completely raw and stripped-down force of nature. Mickey Rourke also has a prominent role in Girl as well, and I think it’s my favorite thing he’s done since The Wrestler (just when you think you know what he’s up to, Rourke proves that he’s always full of surprises). As mentioned, Faust also co-stars in Girl, and I must admit, his performance was totally astounding to watch (in my notes, I mentioned that his character gave off some “edgy Nick Swardson vibes,” and that summarization still seems accurate).
Even though the script does get a bit repetitive at times (if you took a drink every time a character in the film said the word “Daddy,” you’d probably be in a coma by the halfway point), and the movie’s energy dips a bit during the second act, Girl is still a helluva feature film directorial debut from Faust, and I think it would play well alongside some of the Coen brothers’ earlier work, like Blood Simple or Miller’s Crossing. I must admit that going into Girl I wasn’t all that invested, but by the end, I came out of the experience as a huge fan.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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