At an early press screening of “The Wolf Knife,” there were a number of walkouts at the 15-minute mark, presumably in response to the filmmaking style. It’s surprising there weren’t more 45 minutes later, during an extended scene of such unpleasantness that even those with hardened sensibilities or professional obligations to remain may briefly consider bolting. Yet despite its pervasive ugliness, pic bears the mark of an interesting, infuriating artist in writer-director Laurel Nakadate — whether many people are willing to withstand what she has to say is debatable, but she’s made a film worthy of some respect.
Shot in cheap digital with amateur thesps, seemingly improvised settings and little regard for aesthetic beauty, “The Wolf Knife” often seems the result of a Dogma 95-like dare — as if Nakadate had pledged to shoot a loss-of-sexual-innocence road movie using only the locations, equipment and actors found within a one-mile radius of her house.
Had that been the case, though, she would have been quite lucky indeed to live near amateurs as fearless as “The Wolf Knife’s” twin leads. Often scantily clothed and filmed from lurid angles that encourage (nay, demand) an element of queasy voyeurism on the part of the viewer, Christina Kolozsvary and Julie Potratz are Chrissy and June, two bored Fort Lauderdale teenagers with little to do but lie around humid bedrooms and sneak into neighbors’ pools.
Seemingly on a whim (though they’re understandably disturbed by Chrissy’s mother’s new boyfriend, who hilariously interrupts her warning about a rapist on the loose to propose marriage), the two decide to take off for Nashville, where Chrissy claims to be meeting her estranged father. From here, the pair are seen only in motel rooms and in parking lots (never in transit, despite the film’s road-movie paces), killing time and making directionless conversation, as Chrissy begins to clumsily hint at romantic feelings for her friend.
In an unexpected way, the amateur status of the two thesps helps give their relationship a strange veracity. Real teenagers are rarely acutely aware of their own motivations — and are even less capable of articulating them — and the muddle these two make of every charged conversation somehow arrives at a sort of accidental truth.
Once the girls finally reach Nashville (where, we quickly learn, Chrissy’s father was never actually waiting), they have an encounter that is upsetting in the extreme, and throws their precariously structured friendship into disarray. Whether the provocation in this scene is justifiable is difficult to discern: It is not gratuitous, and it effectively translates the hideousness of sexual abuse, yet the methods it uses to do so are questionable — akin to punching a stranger in the face in order to demonstrate the unpleasantness of being punched in the face.
Technical contributions are extremely rough, with inelegant editing and sometimes distorted dialogue, though polish never seems to have been high on Nakadate’s priorities, and at times the pic’s ugliness only increases its intimate immediacy.