French film Teddy offers a new take on the werewolf / body horror story in that it approaches the scenario in a fairly minimalist manner. Rather than including an extravagant metamorphosis sequence, or filling the screen with scene after scene of gross body upgrades, directors Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma keep everything stripped back. There are glimpses of the occasional oddity, such as a suddenly hairy tongue, and there is a short changing sequence, but it is kept mostly hidden, the transformation otherwise confined to the personality of the afflicted Teddy. When first introduced to Teddy (Anthony Bajon), the town outcast, he’s a kind and relatively happy young man. He tends to his sick aunt and is devoted to his girlfriend Rebecca (Christine Gautier), but is perceived as strange to the rest of town thanks to his love of rock music and his inability to not say what is on his mind. At work he is preyed upon by his sexually amorous boss, but just as with the hurtful words of his neighbours and peers, Teddy pushes it to one side. After getting bitten by the wolf that has been terrorizing the local farmstock, Teddy becomes more assertive, aggressive, and territorial, especially where Rebecca is concerned.
With so much of Teddy’s change confined to a shift in behaviour in lieu of visual cues, it is left to actor Anthony Bajon to convey the turmoil that his character is enduring. Bajon manages to communicate this otherness wonderfully, subtly edging Teddy from the community doormat to ferocious beast. Many werewolf stories see the afflicted become gradually less human until eventually they are unrecognisable as having been a member of mankind at all. In Teddy, events never quite reach the same level; Teddy retains his humanity, but his overcharged emotions lead to monstrous fits of primal rage. The end result is similar to that of the typical werewolf tale only without someone running around looking like a giant wolf for half the runtime.
The film’s minimalist approach also helps Teddy keep within the limits of its budget and also ensures that it doesn’t lose any of the tension that it creates. Low budget films can often fall foul at the last hurdle with their monster reveal if said monster reflects its modest costs in its appearance. The Boukherma’s decision to not conform to convention shows a clever head on the shoulders of these young filmmakers. There is of course an instance of Teddy in wolf-form, but it is so fleeting, and Teddy is so swaddled within darkness, that the effects work. The short sighting reinforces the unease rather than accidentally undoing it. Furthermore, it works to reinforce the sensation that the film is trying to demonstrate a fit of blind rage, the devastation it can cause, and how easy it is to become the perpetrator of such violence. A well thought through subversion of the usual werewolf movie, Teddy presents some ingenious ideas and offers proof that an old dog can learn new tricks.
Although an ode to an established movie monster, Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma present plenty of their own ideas, which enables Teddy to be its own very unusual beast.
Teddy is available to watch on Shudder now.
This review first appeared on THN.