Credit: IFFR
by Chris Mello Featured Film Genre Views

Lone Wolf | Jonathan Ogilvie

September 22, 2021

Love Wolf boasts a bold formal idea that’s wielded to unfortunately perfunctory ends.

Jonathan Ogilvie’s Lone Wolf, a political thriller told almost entirely through mock surveillance footage, has an admittedly good hook. The police are surveilling Conrad, the radical owner of an anarchist books and (presumably non-anarchist) porn store, as he becomes embroiled in a plot to enact a “victimless atrocity” to call attention to the cause. In surveilling Conrad, their eyes are also set upon his girlfriend, environmental activist Winnie, and her disabled brother Stevie, setting up a domestic tale about the ways in which innocents become entangled in the far-reaching actions of the surveillance state. But Lone Wolf stumbles early and often, ultimately revealing itself to be little more than a rote thriller, and an inert one at that.

The radical bookstore setting and many of the early scenes — like one in which Conrad claims that he’s a minarchist rather than an anarchist — indicate that, unlike so many other thrillers, Ogilvie’s movie might actually be interested in the minutiae of radical politics. If it were, it might have something interesting to say beyond legitimate but shallow complaints about surveillance. Instead, Lone Wolf ends up collapsing a spectrum of political ideology into a blanket radicalism that obfuscates motivation far past any point of sympathy. Conrad’s allegiance to minarchist ideology isn’t explored past the word being dropped a few times, much in the same way that the film name-checks “Antifa” and “black bloc” in a clumsy, tone-deaf manner with minimal regard for what these ideologies and tactics actually constitute. Minarchism is an offshoot of anarchist thinking that makes room for structures like policing and courts in order to enforce a non-aggression principle among the population; the ideology is diverse, and includes both right-wing and left-wing proponents. As such, the use of the label here is not a clear indication of Conrad’s political sympathies, but simply a tool for dramatic irony. After all, the “night-watchman state” he might advocate for could, in all reality, look an awful lot like the surveillance intent on destroying him.

Of course, utterance of the word aside, Lone Wolf doesn’t take time to explain any of this, so this light repudiation of a somewhat obscure political ideology plays like inside baseball for Bakunin readers. But if the viewer is meant to sympathize with or even give a damn about Conrad, it would help to understand even a single thing about his motivation; without that, he’s just a frightening subversive, a narrative happily propagated by the film’s villainous police. In the absence of any guiding context, then, the emotional stakes are instead placed upon Stevie’s increasing and alarming involvement with Conrad, steering the film away from paranoid thriller and towards a manipulative trainwreck of a melodrama. Not only is this thread ultimately sickeningly exploitative, using a disabled character for cheap narrative trauma, it’s also terribly boring, taking all momentum out of the film for nearly half its runtime just to set up a stupid emotional gutpunch. It’s patently insulting and more than a little disappointing to see the film’s bold formal idea wielded to such perfunctory ends.

Originally published as part of IFFR 2021 — Dispatch 3.