Boys, Pups, Men.

We Were Wolves
(Canada, 94 min.)
Dir. Jordan Canning, Writ. Jordan Canning, Steve Cochrane
Starring: Peter Mooney, Steve Cochrane, Lynda Boyd
Peter Mooney and Lynda Boyd in We Were Wolves

Brothers Nick (Peter Mooney) and Danny (Steve Cochrane) grow up in the wild when they return to their family cottage to sort through their late father’s belongings. The brothers, long estranged, are pups who act like men. Nick needs the cottage weekend as a getaway from his wife and kids, but when Danny, a mooch who appears only when in need of scraps, shows up at the cottage, the brothers revisit old wounds and reconnect lost ties. The smart slice-of-life drama We Were Wolves deftly explores the bonds of brotherhood and the ever-freeing pull of the wild.

Writer/director Jordan Canning, director of shorts such as Oliver Bump’s Birthday, makes an effective transition to feature-length film as We Were Wolves brings the two brothers to a three-day weekend in which secrets emerge during a booze-fuelled getaway of howling at the moon. Canning shows an astute hand at human drama with as she drives the film through performance and character. It’s no easy feat to make a ninety-minute film so engage with only three characters (four if one includes the gorgeous Kawartha Lakes landscape) as the brothers revisit family secrets amidst gin and tonics with their dad’s final fling, Kathleen (Lynda Boyd, Republic of Doyle), but Canning smartly breaks down conceptions of family and masculinity alike in the most idyllic of Canadian getaways. DP Sam Pryse-Phillips makes evocative use of the natural landscape by using the beauty and coldness of the Kawarthas to their full potential. The crisp fall days of We Were Wolves are refreshing, for their realism and emotional authenticity. Mellow music and effective indie soundtrack choices add to the laid-back relatability of the film and its slice-of-life character.

We Were Wolves brings a stirringly foreboding sense of place to the wooded cottage country as Nick and Danny escape from their lives and reconnect one drink at a time. The brothers sit comfortable with a mass of Canucks who live for their weekend and escape their problems by hightailing to the cottage and hitting the bottle. The film smartly parallels the escapes of cottaging and drinking that go hand-in-hand in the Canadian country-going ethos: this film might seem convoluted to non-cottage-going audiences, but Canning’s realization of a family built and destroyed by bloody booze is an authentic dramatization of life at the lake. The retreat from structured life is a blessing, but it’s also an open invitation for excess and, more likely, the airing of deeply buried secrets that need a bottle to come into the light.

A tense weekend of revelations begins as Danny cozies up with Kathleen and tries to learn the secrets of their dad’s final years. Nick, on the other hand, resents Danny for shirking off when the going got bad on their dad’s health and he resents Kathleen even more (far more) for providing their father the happiness that he never had with their mother for the brief period that she was around. The brotherly bonding also reveals Nick’s unhappiness with his wife (Mangiacake’s Melanie Scrofano), the prom queen whom Danny never quite thought his brother deserved. Danny also goads Nick about the weight problem he had during his adolescence and he calls his younger brother by the nickname “Snickers” more to keep him in his place than to evoke better times. Neither brother seems fulfilled in his life, and they both long for an idyllic lost youth that never happened.

Strong performances fuel We Were Wolves as the trio of actors confront their characters’ secrets amidst gins, scotches, and beers by the fire. Mooney is rugged, yet wounded as the young wolf in search of guidance while Cochrane gives a broader performance as the lone wolf eager to be the outsider, if only to mask his own insecurities. Boyd is a strong presence in the smaller, but pivotal role as Kathleen holds the film together. As the one window for the audience into the brother’s world, as well as a vessel into the serene cottage country that provides Kathleen an escape, Boyd’s relaxed, but world-weary performance creates a character who’s taken difficult turns from life but rolls with fate as it throws one punch after another.

Kathleen provides a strong catalyst for the film’s delve into male psyches as the brothers see Kathleen as an easy lay and interloper alike when in reality she holds all the secrets that they’re unwilling to provoke. Canning doesn’t shy away from the questions of masculinity that filmmakers nowadays rarely confront despite the majority of films featuring male leads. The film’s the better for it, as We Were Wolves is resonant and richly characterized. We Were Wolves marks a very promising feature debut for Jordan Canning.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

We Were Wolves is now available on home video.