'Teddy' Review: An Emotional Werewolf Story Audiences Can Sink Their Teeth Into [Fantastic Fest 2020]

The only constant thing in life is change. A simple statement but profoundly complex given the effects time has on our emotions, physical bodies, and maturation. Werewolf stories utilize physical transformation on a thematic level in various ways, but at the heart of their stories is an aspect of the uncontrollable loss of self through physical alterations. This sub-genre of horror gives glimpses into our resistance to change and is one reason why it resonates with audiences multiple times over. Despite change being a universal experience, there are still parts of ourselves we claw to hold onto. Twin directors (Ludovic and Zoren Boukherma) explore these themes in their sophomore film, Teddy. A thirsty intensity of young angst and love, Teddy is a tale of ravenous revenge and resistance towards change. 

The film follows a twenty-something slacker named Teddy (played by Anthony Bajon) who is stuck in a mundane job at a massage parlor and has seemingly no concrete direction in life. He finds happiness and self-worth in taking care of his disabled aunt and his uncle that he lives with full-time. He also deeply enjoys spending time with his girlfriend before she graduates from high school. A wolf has been stalking his small rural town in France, and upon entering the woods one day, Teddy is bit by some creature that he can't fully explain. After that, he begins experiencing disturbing bodily transformations and his thirst for meaning, love, and stability is replaced with a hunger for flesh and revenge.

Bajon delivers a fierce performance as Teddy. On the one hand, he exudes anger towards anything from the military misspelling his great grandfather's name on a war monument to his male peers who come into his work to mock and prank him. The sweet side of Teddy is seen through his relationships with those he loves. He continually suppresses his anger and frustration as he tries to be the best version of himself that he can for those he cares about.

Despite being aimless financially and academically, he does have plans laid out for a future with his girlfriend. He takes her to a development property and walks her through the blueprints of the house and how their future will look with one another. Instead of being receptive to the idea, she invites him to a graduation party with her friends. Teddy respectfully brings a box full of booze and attempts to be friends with her crew despite the fact they are all male, specifically the same guys that torment him.

Bajon successfully stretches the emotional range of his character, fluctuating back and forth from anger to affection with every monotonous emotion in between. At times, his emotional range resembles Jekyll and Hyde but also lingers in obscure moments of calmness, too. As his girlfriend drifts apart from him by throwing away her Doc Martens and getting her braces off, she realizes she is not in love with Teddy anymore and instead pursues one of his tormentors. This sort of painful unrequited love is a relatable aspect of growing up, and the driving catalyst of his anger and subsequent revenge.

Despite the film's low budget, there are plenty of gruesome components that will disturb viewers. A scene with Teddy shaving foreign hairs on his tongue with a razor is particularly jarring and a new visual addition to the horror sub-genre. Despite the minimalistic approach, viewers should be satisfied with the gore on display. At the same time, the directors leave a lot of violence to the imagination and open to interpretation at times, lovingly reminiscent of classic horror films. This approach is effective and does not take away from the emotional or fun climatic impact at the end.

The thematic approach to change is also evident in costume design. While his girlfriend changes her appearance and interests, Teddy does not. Aside from his pink scrubs worn at his job, Teddy wears the same black t-shirt throughout the entire film. This is just one overt example of his resistance to change and his longing for stability in one way or another.

To counterbalance the heavier parts of the film, subtle bits of comedy are peppered throughout. These scenes are reminiscent of John Landis' An American Werewolf in London, and make it clear that the directors are fans of '80s horror. For example, at the graduation party, all of Teddy's girlfriend's friends pull their phones out to silently watch a toast in a very awkward manner. This is quickly followed by an even more uncomfortable fight between Teddy and a male rival. These types of moments evoke sympathy for Teddy and further challenge the viewer of who the monster really is in this film.

The cinematography also stands out well with distinctive lighting used as a means to play with color as well as shield aspects of Teddy as a werewolf. Pops of purple, green, blue, and yellow shine in dark corners to draw the eye to the proper areas. The manipulation of light is particularly well done by building tension in one scene with the single glare of a cell phone providing the only source of brightness in a moment of terror. There is a strong focus to technically manipulate the film in order to arouse emotion as opposed to viciousness for shock value.

The Boukherma duo delivers a sophomore film that is a French love child between I Was A Teenage Werewolf and An American Werewolf in London. The practical body horror and special effects are subtle yet effectively cringe-worthy, which goes to show that a lot can be said and done with a small budget. An inventive and emotional take on the werewolf sub-genre, Teddy is both a comfort and a curse in its depiction of the universal experience regarding change and growing up.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10