IFFR 2021 review: Lone Wolf (Jonathan Ogilvie)

Australia, the near future. The Police minister (Hugo Weaving) is surprised by disgruntled ex-employee Kylie (Diana Glenn) barging into his office. She asks him to watch a video, and urged on by his assistant police commissioner he reluctantly agrees. The video is comprised of footage from surveillance and security cameras, phones, Skype sessions, and spy cameras, and provides a window into the lives of Winnie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and Conrad (Josh McConville), two environmental activists running an obscure bookstore. Living above the store with Winnie’s brother Stevie (Chris Bunton) who has Down syndrome, they are unaware of how invasive police surveillance is in their lives, with cameras spying on them constantly, even in moments of intimacy. Conrad is approached by an anarchist group to help disrupt an upcoming G20 summit. The financial gain that is offered to him makes Conrad and Winnie decide to go ahead with it, but are they being set up? And why does the Police minister, running on a platform of safety through increased digital surveillance, need to take a look into the lives of these two smalltime activists?

Jonathan Ogilvie’s Lone Wolf is a film in two parts, bookended by two scenes in Weaving’s office. Structurally clever, it is essentially a film within a film, cobbled together by an editor (the aforementioned disgruntled ex-employee) who readily admits she structured it in such a way that it gets a narrative drive. This means the film could stand on its own without the bookending scenes, but the film’s denouement has one final, victorious twist in store. An astute political thriller, Lone Wolf highlights the dangers of the encroaching invasion of our privacy, both online and offline. Even though Kylie’s collage of Winnie and Conrad’s life is a little too farfetched and visually perfect to be seen as beyond movie realism, certainly in the summer of 2021 when it is set, the underlying message is clear. Even so, the film’s first half at times drags as it gets into the personal space of the protagonists a little too much with the focus it puts on the loving relationship between Winnie and her brother, no matter the emotional payoff this has later in the film. Likewise a friendship between Winnie and another man, which fires up Conrad’s jealous side, is an added plot strand that the film could perhaps do without. These elements do keep the film from becoming too plot-heavy and provide an emotional center in the shape of Winnie, but in the opening half the balance in this regard is off. Once the plot picks up, however, in the second half these faults are quickly forgotten, as Ogilvie slowly peels away the layers of the story to reveal a triumphant conclusion.

Lone Wolf‘s conceptual twist on the ‘found footage’ genre is more than a gimmick even with the critique of some scenes being too ‘directed’. It is a social commentary that is not exactly profound but cleverly packaged. And with an excellent Cobham-Hervey at the center, the film has enough emotional punch to captivate an audience for its relatively short runtime. At times overthought, Lone Wolf is a nifty little thriller that starts to click past the midpoint.