In her 2019 New York Times piece “Racists Are Recruiting. Watch Your White Sons,” writer and media critic Joanna Schroeder raises the alarm regarding deluges of xenophobic nationalist content flooding online spaces courtesy of white supremacists intent on recruiting young men—including her two sons—to their cause. “These groups prey upon the natural awkwardness of adolescence.” she correctly points out, because at no point in a man’s life is he more vulnerable to scapegoating’s seductive allure than when he’s trying to figure himself out and cope with his changing body. If Schroeder ever sits down to watch Teddy, the sophomore film by brothers Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, she’ll probably feel like she’s been proven right.
She may also feel relief that at least the title character is just a werewolf and not a domestic terrorist. Under the right (or wrong) influence, he might’ve gone and joined a hate group like Génération Identitaire. By comparison, lycanthropy seems preferable. Of course, Teddy isn’t so full of itself that it actively pursues subtext at the expense of text. The Boukhermas have not made a straightforward “radicalization, but make it a literal monster” movie. What they’ve done instead is made a movie about a loner living in an unnamed hamlet in the Pyrenees, desperate to feel belonging whether within his peer group, his hometown or, most ambitious of all, history, who ends up suffering a nibble from a rampaging supernatural canid. It’s a werewolf movie directed in the vein of stilted, bone-dry coming-of-age comedy. But if the viewer is so inclined, they might walk away from Teddy connecting the dots between the same-named protagonist, played by Anthony Bajon, and scores of teens and 20-somethings like him who turn to violence as the ultimate expression of not only ideologies, but angst.
Passing the days alienated from your community is a bummer way of life, especially when the way’s chosen for you by the apathetic pricks in charge of your town and the haughty adolescent douchebags who consider you less-than by virtue of your education and background. Teddy doesn’t go to high school. He hasn’t even finished middle school, if we take him at his word during a post-screw conversation with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Christine Gautier). He doesn’t have a mom or dad, either. Just an adoptive uncle, Pépin (Ludovic Torrent). There’s not much Teddy has to offer, at least at a glance.
The Boukhermas give far deeper inspection than that. Teddy’s actually a pretty good lad, education or no, a little rough around the edges and not one to follow rules with a smile or dance to the beat of someone else’s drum, but still good overall. His relationship with Rebecca is the best proof of his character. Then one night, Teddy does what people can’t help doing in horror movies: He wanders into the brush to inspect a noise at dusk, and a wolf—or something else—bites him for his trouble. For the next 70 minutes, all he can do is try not to kill anyone, even if everyone gives him a reason.
Horror occupies a uniquely empathetic place in cinema in that audiences always identify with the plight of the poor suckers singled out for torment on screen. No one, no matter who they are, wants to be the guy getting shown his guts by a machete-wielding maniac. Movies like Teddy take that empathetic stance further by investing everything they have in their lead. This is Teddy’s narrative. Bajon spends so much time in front of the camera with his boyish looks, wide eyes and short-trimmed hair that it’s impossible to imagine feeling anything other than fondness for him. The Boukhermas want the best for Teddy, which might mean they also want the best for young men like him: Alone almost entirely, with only a few beacons to light the way and far too many other distractions to run aground on.
That makes all the awful experiences Teddy goes through, including the ones we don’t get to see—the events that led him to live under Pépin’s care, for instance—all the more heartbreaking. Of all the people we meet in Teddy, Teddy’s the least deserving of the suffering heaped upon him, whether he’s shouldering insults about his ancestry or plucking a guard hair out of his eyeball. What he lacks in others’ fortune he makes up for with ambition and his abiding love for Rebecca. The guy cares. Per horror’s mores, that means he has to pay.
While the Boukhermas have a bit of fun with practical, gory effects mostly staged to show off his body’s gruesome deterioration under the effects of the werewolf curse, the fun never comes at Teddy’s expense. Skin-crawling visuals are one reason why people watch horror in the first place, but that doesn’t mean horror has to be mean-spirited. Teddy has a kinder soul than that, even if the climax can be described in a word as an “abattoir.” The film abstains from the heavy lifting required to make any belabored points about radicalization, and leaves the audience to take it for what it is: A sad tale about one kid society’s left to his own devices. That the kid happens to be a werewolf is a bonus. Better that than the alternative.
Directors: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma
Writers: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma
Starring: Anthony Bajon, Christine Gautier, Ludovic Torrent, Guillaume Mattera, Noémie Lvovsky, Jean-Michel Ricart
Release Date: August 5, 2021 (Shudder)
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.