Unchained at SXSW: “Wolf”


A family is shaken to the core when they discover their son has been molested. As they struggle to deal with the betrayal, their son heads towards a total mental collapse because of his love for his abuser, while his abuser attempts to exorcise his own past demons.

WOLF was the film I’d been saving for last at SXSW for two reasons. I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about it, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to handle watching another film after seeing it. This is one heavy film that follows the journey of a family dealing with one of the most tragic subjects one can fathom. As it says above in the official synopsis, WOLF follows a Black family dealing with the revelation that their son was molested by their beloved community church pastor. The director of the film, Ya’ke Smith was kind enough to participate in the Q&A via speakerphone at the film’s last screening. I really appreciated that because he was able to answer many of the question that popped in my head during the film. Ya’ke has a superb way of giving the audience a glimpse into multiple characters’ reactions to the accusation of abuse in a way that I’ve never seen before. You see how the destruction of one young man’s innocence ripples throughout his family and the church. You don’t just get the perspective of the abuser and his victim, but the father, mother, grandmother, church elders and anyone who happens to get tangled in the web of the boy’s pain. It was most painful to watch Carl’s parents deal with both the idea that their son had been destroyed and that the perpetrator was their most trusted community member. A recent review from my favorite blog, Shadow and Act, said the film was what Spike Lee’s RED HOOK SUMMER should have been. Having seen both, I can understand that claim. WOLF is much more focused and succinct from the very opening sequence on following the aftermath of a single event of the boy’s molestation coming to light, while RED HOOK SUMMER slightly hints at the same subject with a somewhat payoff in the second half of a very long film. WOLF also featured powerful, distinct sound design and cinematography that helped convey the biblical expression of ” a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. There is a quiet growing trend of films revealing corruption in the Black church (RED HOOK SUMMER, THE UNDER SHEPHERD, WOLF), which is good or bad depending on your audience. I think WOLF stands out among the rest, specifically with just one scene that disturbingly shows how even the victim can begin to embody the traits of their abuser. While I still had difficulty feeling any sympathy for the pastor who engaged in the relationship with Carl, the overall premise crafted by the director and impressive performances by the ensemble cast have left me unsettled in a fantastic way that I’m still processing even today.

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3 thoughts on “Unchained at SXSW: “Wolf”

  1. revjonflores says:

    Sounds super disturbing. Have you seen “Mystic River”? I wonder how it compares to “Wolf.” (and please remind me where to put a question mark…inside or outside of the quotation marks in this instance?)

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