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Wolf - What We Know So Far

One of the great delights of the year-end film festival cycle is getting to discover strange, abrasive, challenging arthouse confections alongside the typical star-studded prestige fare. With tens of lofty-minded filmmakers vying for cultural space, it's often the case that the most talked-about movies in fall season, and even going into award season, are the most unexpected ones — that's what previously made the careers of such weirdo auteurs as Yorgos Lanthimos and Darren Aronofsky.

It is, of course, impossible to predict in advance which movie will be the year's "Dogtooth" or "Mother!," but if we were to take an educated guess, one upcoming 2021 movie that seems tipped to make a big, bold splash is Nathalie Biancheri's "Wolf." Everything about this Irish-Polish Focus Feature release hints at a potential underground hit: attention-grabbing subject matter, underrated character actors, up-and-coming filmmaker on the cusp of a breakthrough, December counterprogramming release date. Here's everything we know so far about what's sure to be a hot-button movie.

When will Wolf be released?

An independent production made through the combined efforts of several European studios and funds, "Wolf" was shot between August and October of 2020, with COVID-19 safety measures in place, following a pandemic-imposed delay of several months in the original schedule (via KFTV). Not long after it wrapped, Focus Features bought it for distribution, with Universal Pictures International handling international market releases (via Deadline).

In late May of this year, Deadline reported that a U.S. release date was officially set: December 3, 2021. This will be the first weekend following the five-day Thanksgiving holiday — the same date on which Guillermo del Toro's "Nightmare Alley" is scheduled to finally hit theaters. The choice of a December release date, smack in the middle of the year-end prestige season between fall festivals and winter awards, suggests that Focus Features expects "Wolf" to be either an awards player or, at the very least, savvy counterprogramming to the more standard "respectable" titles that usually fill theaters in December. It's a strategy that has paid dividends before: "In Fabric," "The House that Jack Built," "The Eyes of My Mother," and Focus' own "Nocturnal Animals" are a few recently examples of controversial films that rode a December counterprogramming wave to sizable success among arthouse audiences.

Who will be in the cast of Wolf?

We've known the names of the main players in "Wolf" for quite some time now, as George MacKay ("1917") and Lily-Rose Depp ("Voyagers") were announced by Deadline as having joined the cast as early as February 2020. A few months later, in an interview with Movies.ie, director Nathalie Biancheri herself revealed the names of a few more key cast members: the always dependable Paddy Considine and underrated Irish character actress Eileen Walsh are both playing therapists in the movie, and Fionn O'Shea ("Handsome Devil"), Lola Petticrew ("Dating Amber"), and "young discovery" Senan Jennings ("Vivarium") are also part of what Biancheri described as an "ensemble piece." IMDb lists nine additional actors, including Terry Notary, who previously caused a stir with his one-scene animal performance in Palme d'Or winner "The Square."

"Wolf" has primarily been positioned as a love story between the characters of MacKay and Depp, named Jacob and Wildcat. As such, the movie could be a major moment for both actors, as they have been on the bubble of widespread name recognition for some time now without quite breaking through with mainstream audiences. This is particularly true of MacKay, whose bravura lead performance in "1917" was sadly overlooked at award shows in favor of the film's technical elements. "Wolf" may well be the head-turning showcase we've been waiting for him to get.

What will "Wolf" be about?

The most notorious element of "Wolf" that has been unveiled so far — and, indeed, the reason the movie has been so hotly anticipated since it was announced — is definitely its premise. 

Focus Features has described it as the story of Jacob, a boy who, believing to be a wolf trapped in a human body, "eats, sleeps, and lives like a wolf — much to the shock of his family." He is then sent to a clinic, in which "Jacob and his animal-bound peers are forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of 'curative' therapies." It's there that he meets Wildcat, sending the film on the path of an unlikely love story.

Speaking to Movies.ie, Nathalie Biancheri, who also wrote the script, described "Wolf" as "a very different film set in a slightly more surreal world." She also revealed that Jacob's condition is "actually a real illness called species dysphoria." The identities of people whose sense of self extends beyond the boundaries of humanity has, indeed, been the object of some cultural and psychological attention in recent years, with the Cambridge University website having recently published an essay looking at the phenomenon of "otherkin" individuals, of which the characters in "Wolf" would seem to be particularly extreme examples. It remains to be seen just how the movie is going to straddle the line between surrealism and social verisimilitude, but, either way, color us intrigued!