Teddy feels awfully familiar and its bid at upsetting that template doesn’t quite work, but the Boukherma brothers at least present a clear sensibility that could recommend future work.
Ludovic & Zoran Boukherma’s new horror/comedy Teddy is only intermittently interesting as a werewolf movie, but it’s a fascinatingly off-kilter character study of disaffected youth wasting away in small-town southern France. Teddy Pruvost (Anthony Bajon) is a loutish 19-year-old high school dropout who bums around town listening to heavy metal and slacking off at his temp job at a massage parlor. He visits his younger girlfriend Rebecca (Christine Gautier) and fills her head with grandiose dreams about building their forever home and striking it rich while they trip on shrooms. It’s an innocuous existence, rife with low-key familial and class tensions, which the Boukherma brothers film with a deadpan sense of humor and just a hint of creeping dread. The town has recently been plagued by a raft of animal killings, and when Teddy wanders into the woods one night, he’s attacked by something. Of course, the audience knows exactly what’s going on, even if Teddy and the local police don’t. And so begins a gradual transformation process familiar from so many other genre films. Thankfully, the Boukhermas have a knack for squirm-inducing body horror — there’s a knockout scene where Teddy decides to shave some newly-sprouted hairs off of his own tongue — and a colorful cast of characters to keep the movie speeding along to its forgone conclusion.
Ludovic and Zoran spent their own childhoods in a small town in Lot-et-Garonne in Southwest France, leaving to attend Luc Besson’s film schools La Cite du Cinema and L’Ecole de la Cite in Paris. Self-professed fans of Truffaut, Spielberg, and Bruno Dumont, the duo have here attempted some ungainly combination of these disparate influences and come up with an oddball, fitfully successful flavor all their own. They imbue the wide-open spaces and clear skies of the rolling countryside with a sense of natural beauty, but also an existential absence of things — it’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. It’s all placid surfaces that Teddy disrupts with his unruly presence, and that’s even before his brush with lycanthropy.
But Teddy isn’t a total misanthrope; rather, he’s more of a misunderstood case of arrested development. He lives with his kooky adopted Uncle and disabled Aunt, and seems to have genuine affection for them. Likewise, he’s tender and attentive towards Rebecca, and when she ends their relationship, he’s genuinely heartbroken. The film is quite funny in places, too; Teddy is introduced heckling the unveiling of a WWII memorial, and flies into a rage when it’s revealed that the accompanying plaque has misspelled his grandfather’s name. When Rebecca dumps him, she states flatly that she “listens to hip hop now,” and the camera cuts to a pair of Doc Martens poking up out of a trash can. As the full moon approaches, Teddy first finds himself having troubling dreams, then mutilating livestock, and eventually attacking his over-sexed boss at the massage parlor (another scene that starts off funny-quirky before gradually escalating into something altogether grosser). Eventually, Teddy trains his ire on a group of rich teenagers who are celebrating the end of exams and their admittance to various institutes of higher learning. Ever the marginalized outcast, Teddy fully transforms for the first (and, disappointingly, only) time, and has his revenge against those who he thinks have shunned him. For such a generally odd movie, the Boukhermas fashion a genuinely moving denouement to their fractured fairy tale, as the town mourns mass slaughter, and the camera happens to reveal a troubling wound on one of the survivors. Ultimately, Teddy isn’t a particularly successful film; the various modes the brothers are trying to suture together show their seams, and the narrative is built from awfully familiar stuff. But there’s no denying the pair have a sensibility, and that’s not nothing.
You can currently stream Ludovic & Zoran Boukherma’s Teddy on Shudder.