While Fantastic Fest is a genre festival known for screening horror films, and the Wolf Man is a classic Universal monster, this movie doesn’t quite follow the path you might expect it to. Instead, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” is a quirky coming-of-age drama about a 13-year-old boy with hypertrichosis (also known as Werewolf Syndrome).
Jaeden Martell (of the recent “IT” movies and Fantastic Fest 2019 closing film “Knives Out”) stars as Paul, who is unsurprisingly bullied for the way he looks. His supportive but frustrated single dad is portrayed by Chris Messina, and the friends he makes on his journey include Sophie Giannamore as Aristiana and Eve Hewson as Rose. The movie is director Martin Krejcí’s first feature.
The action of the film is kicked off when Paul receives a package from his mother, whom he has never met. He’s determined to find her using a map she included, and runs away after a fight with his father. When Paul stops running, he finds himself at a carnival, where he meets ringleader Mr. Silk (an unhinged performance from John Turturro), who convinces him to become a sideshow attraction to make money. But after a day, Paul decides it isn’t worth it and sets the whole carnival aflame.
The next day, he meets Aristiana, who hates her mother — and initially dislikes Paul, telling him, “Just because you look like that doesn’t mean you can be a dick.” The two set off on a journey together with help from Rose, who is an adult and a bad influence. She encourages them to drink liquor, commit violent crimes and more, but she also brings excitement to their lives. The entire time they’re on the road, cops are searching for the missing children and Mr. Silk is hot on their trails so he can get revenge on Paul.
Despite all of the drama, most of the tension in “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” lies with Paul’s search for his mother. Throughout the film, there are snippets of narration from the protagonist, reciting the questions he’s always wanted to ask her. It’s both riveting and heartbreaking.
There are plenty of tonal shifts in this movie, but it never feels disjointed. The soundtrack is diegetic (the music exists within the characters’ world), which is a fun aspect of it. There are stretches of lighthearted, comedic coming-of-age moments; yes, even when the trio of Paul, Aristiana and Rose is committing crimes, it never feels too serious. But there are also heavy topics broached in the movie, and the performances of Martell and Giannamore especially sell the pain that is not only a part of adolescence, but also a part of being different.
It feels as though Krejcí wants to ensure audiences that being different can be hard, but it doesn’t make you less-than. There isn’t even a message that everyone is different in their own way, which would be legitimate but cliché; it’s more that you can find your own tribe, even if it isn’t made up of people like yourself.
“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” is told in chapters too, with gorgeous title cards and titles like “Wolfboy Deals With the Devil” and “Wolfboy, Your Chariot Awaits!” It’s another thing that makes the film’s quirkiness feel new. It’s using fantasy and fairytale elements to tell a real story about identity. And while it’s a lovely coming-of-age drama, it’s also likely too wrapped up in genre to be considered Oscar bait (though who knows after “The Shape of Water” won?).
If you’re on the lookout for a film adjacent to “Moonrise Kingdom,” but with a bit more of a genre bent to it, this is your movie. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and even the heartbreaking moments don’t last long, so it’s safe to call it feel-good as well.
“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” will have its second Fantastic Fest screening on Wednesday, September 25, at 11 a.m.
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Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dogs, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia.