Werewolf lore often centers around the outcast…
…Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man, Ginger in Ginger Snaps, and essentially all of the werewolves in The Howling. Each and every one of them are characters tossed out by society. Different. In writers/directors Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma’s Teddy, which just premiered at the Chattanooga Film Festival, the filmmakers deliver a memorable character in Teddy (Anthony Bajon) that fits the hairy mold perfectly.
Teddy follows the title character, a school dropout despised by most of his small town. When Teddy is attacked by what he thinks is a wolf, he tries to shrug it off, until the bite begins to exhibit certain side effects, like a strange new hunger, and hair in places he didn’t have it before. As the change gets worse and evidence mounts that there may be something wrong with Teddy, he finds himself face to face with a town that hates him, family and friends who don’t trust him, and a beast inside that’s sick of the world’s shit.
And, unfortunately, that synopsis probably makes Teddy sound a lot better than it is.
But first, the positive, which is that Teddy is a deeply sympathetic character, played with an odd charm by Bajon that makes it easy to overlook Teddy’s more off-putting qualities. We first meet Teddy attending a service commending soldiers who died during WW2, during which he throws a fit over the misspelling of a family member’s name, shouts obscenities at the men in uniform and speeds off in a rage. He’s a complete dick, barging into the house of his girlfriend Rebecca (Christine Gautier) and ignoring her parents. He talks back to his boss Ghislaine (Noemie Lvovsky) at the massage parlor. It’s easy to see why the town despises this crass, angry person.
That’s why Teddy deserves a lot of credit, because I found myself growing to love this doofus as time went on. Teddy is like a cartoon character, wearing the same damn shirt every day—which he has multiple pairs of—and is loyal as a dog to the people he cares about. Teddy treats Rebecca like a queen, and is much softer with the people he lives with, his aunt and the town moron, Pepin (Ludovic Torrent). Like in every good werewolf film, Teddy is a tragic character with an already bad situation made worse by a freeing of the anger inside him.
As for how the film does with its wolfie premise otherwise, well…
Teddy is inconsistent, at best, with Teddy’s transformation. Clunky direction fails to put much of an emphasis on some of the changes within Teddy, with his new cravings for meat dealt with as more of a hand wave, and slight changes coming few and far between. The film doesn’t do much different with the werewolf lore either, outside of a concept that hair can grow just about anywhere, including the tongue, which makes for the occasional moment of cringey body horror. Odd pacing has the audience going long moments without much of anything all that sinister occurring, made all the stranger that Teddy will in one moment have hair on his tongue, and in the next, not. This lessens the sense that Teddy is losing himself, unlike other werewolf films that mix hormonal changes with the curse such as Ginger Snaps, which sees Ginger discovering new changes and having to live with them.
This film is Teen Wolf meets Ginger Snaps, but without the effective comedy of the former or the abject terror of the latter.
Teddy will likely give you werewolf blue balls if you’re a lycan fan like myself hoping for some werewolf carnage. There’s very little of that here, with the filmmakers taking a more minimalist approach. Almost every violent encounter occurs offscreen, including the initial attack on Teddy. This does however create a good deal of tension here and there, anchored by a spine-tingling score from Amaury Chabauty, using our urge to see the werewolf to the film’s advantage, much like that subway scene in American Werewolf in London, in which we just barely catch a glimpse of the creature. In that way, Teddy is a restrained, patient film, which will work wonderfully for some, and not so much for others. If you’re coming to Teddy hoping for some mind-blowing werewolf effects, best to expect to be disappointed there.
There’s an awkward sense of comedy to this film that lends a bit of charm, carried mostly by Bajon, with laughs coming from situational observations and Teddy’s over-exaggerated frustration with the world around him. Teddy isn’t a howl-a-minute riot, but it is endearing to a degree, often going for the kind of comedy that makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Imagine a sex scene with some overly wet sound design in which Teddy proves he’s no Batman, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about here. That’s not the only time that the film gets nasty with the carnal nature of humans, either.
Teddy is an attempt at a traditional werewolf story that nails the sympathetic character whom many of us can relate to, but struggles to maintain interest by incorporating minimalist horror without the necessary payoff. This isn’t an unenjoyable werewolf film by any means, thanks largely to oddball characters that keep things lively, but it doesn’t put a fresh coat of fur on the genre either, and Teddy is going to leave a lot of you with that lycan itch un-scratched.
By Matt Konopka