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Fantastic Fest 2020: ”Teddy” Film Review – A Quietly Ferocious Anthony Bajon Shines at Center of French Werewolf Dramedy

I’ve never gotten the chance to attend Fantastic Fest prior to this virtual gathering taking place from September 24 to October 1. Everything I’ve seen from my social media feed during the festival in past years looked like one big wild party that I’ve been missing out on. And while we can’t celebrate these films together, I’m grateful to even experience the festival in digital form! I really had no idea what to expect, but when the live stream opened up with video of a Japanese game show in which a contestant, supposedly getting the wrong answer, is buried in a sumo wrestler’s ass ramming toward his face at 10 mph, everything I had heard about Alamo Drafthouse’s wonderfully weird curation made so much sense. 

It was then that the feed was interrupted by a bunch of people wearing werewolf masks rocking out to heavy metal grunge. For those few seconds before any music started playing, it felt like I was being confronted by 17 Mr. Peachfuzzes. I was in the den of werewolf weirdos and loved every second of it. Fantastic Fest got things rolling with the North American premiere of “Teddy,” a welcome addition to the pack of werewolf-as-allegory movies.

When you reach your 20s, you feel a natural impulse to explore what you want to be, all while the crushing weight of the responsibilities of adulthood start to come crashing down. I’m sure that learning that you’re about to become a werewolf will in no way make this transitional period any more difficult. 

Anthony Bajon in “Teddy”

Confined to a small rural French village, all Teddy (Anthony Bajon) aspires to do is quit his temp masseuse gig and move into a “built from scratch” home with his girlfriend Rebecca (Christine Gautier). There’s not much to make a life in this town, otherwise. He’s having some trouble, though, maintaining the mature attitude needed to make those dreams come to fruition. And to make matters worse, after taking a venture in the woods outside his home, Teddy emerges with a scratch from some sort of beast. It turns out that he’s actually been bitten by a werewolf that has been eviscerating livestock along the countryside, each night unleashing a new stage in his hairy transformation. And each new feral progression makes it that much harder to keep things on track. 

As the sophomore feature of filmmaking duo Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma (“Willy 1er”), “Teddy” is a smart and often funny attempt at a low-budget werewolf movie that balances a fair blend of human drama and squirm-inducing body horror. I found myself yelling at my laptop during one particular instance involving a razor and a mirror. And yet, I couldn’t look away. They’re well aware that you know what’s about to happen when Teddy picks up the very sharp shaving instrument and take pleasure in knowing just how much it’s going to make you shift around in your seat. The sequence wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it didn’t have a dedicated lead performer like Bajon at the helm.

(L-R) Anthony Bajon and Christine Gautier in “Teddy”

Recognized as an award-winning actor (Berlin Film Festival 2018 – Silver Bear Award for Best  Actor in “The Prayer”), Bajon demonstrates a subdued intensity as Teddy’s lycanthrope transformation takes form. Or is it Teddy’s exasperation that dictates his metamorphosis? There’s a rage burning inside him that compliments the violent transformation throughout the course of “Teddy.” When Teddy speaks, it’s usually in lieu of acting like a smart-ass to mask his insecurities. I was really surprised at how much I wanted to root for him while simultaneously fearing what he may become as his world starts to crumble, wolf stuff aside. Without Rebecca, Teddy’s human connection is minimal at best. He’s an inherently lonely individual destined for some form of tragedy; he shows more confidence giving a pep talk to a case of alcohol than just about anyone else in town. 

The greatest moments with Teddy — always sporting the same black tee with a flaming dragon on the front — are when Bajon is allowed to act solely with his acute body language, such as a tense confrontation with his boss (Noémie Lvovsky), who doesn’t respect his boundaries. The Boukherma twins are patient with unfurling the monster design, taking the time to build upon Teddy’s gradual de-evolution. If you’re expecting a special effects-driven werewolf bloodbath, “Teddy” won’t give you what you’re looking for. Here, it’s more about the little glimpses you do get that make Teddy’s transition difficult to watch.

“Teddy” is also visually captivating in how it captures the small-town environment. When the camera isn’t staring him down the barrel, it visualizes the world around him with an abundance of negative space in the frame. The freedom to move around the immeasurable aesthetic is there, yet he feels trapped by the limitations of this little town, littered with bullies that have had  greater success moving forward with their lives than he has. 

Noémie Lvovsky in “Teddy”

For as much as there is to admire about “Teddy,” it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. Many of the trademark werewolf movies hallmarks are on full display, slightly tweaked to create a fresh yet familiar experience. In addition to inspirational cues from the werewolf pantheon like “An American Werewolf in London,” “Teddy” can’t help but demonstrate shades of “Carrie” in its suspenseful presentation. The unwritten rule of any movie featuring someone going through a horrific transformation into a bloodthirsty monster is that they are bound, at some point, to snap. And when it happens, it ain’t going to be pretty. The how, when and where of this critical moment is as important as the build-up, and “Teddy” manages to unleash a wave of bloody carnage while retaining the disturbing undertone of what the titular lead feels compelled to do. 

“Teddy” doesn’t remodel the werewolf movie so much as it honors the familiar components while remaining its own thing with a sly sense of humor, suspense and a noteworthy central performance to keep things running smoothly. 

Follow all of the Fantastic Fest 2020 coverage here!

Featured Image: Anthony Bajon in “Teddy”

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