SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 16, 2012
Director: Ya’Ke Smith
Writer: Ya’Ke Smith
Starring: Jordan Cooper, Shelton Jolivette, Mikala Gibson, Irma P. Hall, Eugene Lee, Gabi Walker, Monique Straw, Amelia Jeffries, Nikki Young, Xavier Ramirez
Carl (Jordan Cooper) is haunted by a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by an unseen predator in a forest. These dreams coincide with a devastating romantic break-up that Carl is trying to understand. Carl burns himself — which could be interpreted as self-punishment or a means of confirming that he is still capable of feeling something — and has socially retreated into a near-catatonic state.
Carl’s parents — Nona (Mikala Gibson) and Jaymund (Shelton Jolivette) — recently overcame a family-shattering drama all thanks to the preacher at their local church, Bishop Anderson (Eugene Lee). Now, Carl studies at Bishop Anderson’s school and the Bishop is the only person who prompts any emotional response from Carl. This makes sense because, with Jaymund always on the road for work, the Bishop has become Carl’s de facto father figure. Nona and Jaymund admire the Bishop, so they have encouraged Carl’s bond with him.
After Carl attempts suicide, Nona discovers startling video recordings on his Smart Phone. The revealing footage causes Carl’s family — including his devoutly religious grandmother (Irma P. Hall) — to question their church and their god. That said — writer-director Ya’Ke Smith’s Wolf is not a condemnation of the church; it is a revealing portrait of how positions of power and influence can be used in harrowing ways. Wolf discusses how sometimes penance and forgiveness is not always enough to repair a person or situation; sometimes the scars are too deep for even god to fix.
For example, pedophilia cannot just be swept under the rug; it must be addressed and treated, otherwise it will happen again and again and again. Often times with pedophilia, the prey grows to become the predator; so both sides of the equation need treatment. I find it interesting in Wolf that Nona is studying Psychology, yet she is in total denial about the psychological destruction happening right in front of her very eyes. Not only is this a cultural issue — the denial of pedophilia and homosexuality (that is not to say any character in Wolf is gay) — but Carl is too close to her. In other words, Smith is reminding us that it is easier to diagnose and treat the issues of others than to address your own problems.
Wolf works incredibly well because Smith grounds the film firmly in reality, fully fleshing out his characters and never over-dramatizing their actions. (Smith certainly could not have done this without Jordan Cooper, Shelton Jolivette, Mikala Gibson, Irma P. Hall and Eugene Lee’s awe-inspiring performances.) The unbridled realism is what gives Wolf its gut-wrenching power. Wolf is definitely not an easy (or enjoyable) film to watch, but it is a film that truly deserves to be watched by everyone. Wolf is an emotionally challenging film that is sure to prompt deep philosophical discussions about power, corruption, religion and society. Is that not the purpose of art? To challenge us. To make us think. To make us react.
(Also check out our SXSW 2012 interview with Ya’Ke Smith.)