Bobbi Salvör Menuez attends the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “My Animal” Premiere at The Ray Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
By Stephanie Ornelas
The expression “we all have our demons” carries varying levels of significance from one person to another. But what happens when the demons collide internally all at once, and one of the demons you contend with feels as if it’s not of this world, clawing to get out?
In a truly unique form, director Jacqueline Castel manages to revive a traditional horror story in remarkably modern fashion, while meshing traditional parts of the werewolf tale with modern aspects of society in the present world. We see coming-of-age stories told on the screen month after month, but My Animal reimagines what it means to question who you are without repercussions.
Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez), a small-town hockey goalie watching from the bench, finds herself thrown headfirst into a ferocious game, fighting multiple demons in her life that are trying to escape all at once. Her internal battles are tied to physical struggles, as evidenced in her dealings with her alcoholic mother. What begins as menial and casual provocations quickly snowballs into unpredictable explosive arguments, and fights that deteriorate that last bit of family connection. However, this all stems from darker and even more dangerous family origins, which ignite behaviors that are impossible for Heather to control. Every full moon she has to be shackled to prevent her from harming others, including her family.
Castel, who spent many production days chasing down lunar eclipses, told the audience at the post-premiere Q&A that the film is a love story to the moon, and that she wanted it to represent isolation.
“Just the isolation that most of us have felt, especially if you grow up in the middle of nowhere,” Castel says. “You have this experience which is the worst in the world — you are alone. And this is Heather’s truth. I just really wanted to start with this idea of an angry, bloody attack moment. Because when you’re that alone, you really just want to rip something apart. At least that’s how I feel. ”
When preparing for her role, Menuez took a really somatic approach, and explains, “I learned so much about [Heather] that I can relate to — as a trans person, relating to your body, a body that’s changing. Heather is afraid of her body, [she’s afraid] that her body might scare other people, and she can’t share it with everyone.”
As her relationship with her mother is deteriorating, a fresh one is formed with the new girl in town, Jonny (Amandla Stenberg), a figure skater tormented by high expectations and personal struggles off the ice. The two find solace in each other, and what begins as a spark leads to a much deeper relationship than either anticipated, giving Heather affirmation that she is who she is, and can be who she wants to be.
“I think I was just really drawn to this idea of using the werewolf mythology in a radically different way, and using it as a metaphor for this idea of how to raise this outsider figure that doesn’t really fit in — and in multiple ways — with her community, and certain aspects of her family dynamic,” says Menuez. “Heather really feels isolated until Jonny opens up this whole new world for her.”