Danny and Nick are brothers. One is almost 40 and full of bravado, having left home at 18 chasing musical stardom and still chasing a big record deal. The other, a little younger, chose a different path: married with two kids and a stable job, he’s the responsible one who nursed their father in his final days.
One blames their father, an alcoholic, for a painful childhood. The other chooses to remember a gentler man. Both of them remain within their father’s grip, even as they place his ashes in a box on the mantelpiece.
“We Were Wolves” is local filmmaker Jordan Canning’s directorial debut on a feature film, and an exploration of family, loyalty and the limits of a sibling bond.
It stars Peter Mooney (“Rookie Blue”) as younger brother, Nick, and Steve Cochrane plays Danny.
Cochrane also co-wrote and co-produced the film with Canning, who first contacted him in the spring of 2013 with her script idea.
The pair met for coffee in July, and a final draft by September, and shot the feature in a cabin in the woods on an island in Ontario over two weeks in October.
Nick hasn’t seen Danny in at least five years, but he shows up on the dock, on a day Nick is taking his father’s boat — and his remains — to the cabin where he lived, to sort through his belongings.
Danny insists on a brother’s weekend, “just like the old times we should have had,” but Nick is reluctant. He eventually relents.
Both brothers have learned to build walls around themselves to disguise wounds. Nick has a stoic, martyr façade of a grown-up, while Danny can’t shut up, talking and poking fun and attempting to cover up his feelings of being a failure.
Things come to a head on the secluded island with the arrival of a realtor Danny secretly enlisted to appraise the cottage, and a meeting with Kathleen, an older, gorgeous, aloof woman living in a neighbouring cottage.
While the film script was written with Mooney specifically in mind, Canning said the role of Kathleen was long a mystery to her.
“I had a running list of actors on my computer and sometimes I’d add names to it. I didn’t know any of them, and was doing some research on them.
“One day, Steve and I were texting back and forth, throwing out names to each other, and Lynda Boyd just came into my head. It was like, why did it take me so long to think of this? I sent her name to Steve and he called me and said, ‘Of course! Of course Lynda!’.”
Boyd, best known for her role as Rose Doyle on “Republic of Doyle” seems natural and relaxed in the part of Kathleen.
“Doyle” fans will notice a massive difference in her in this role, and may be a little surprised to see a raunchy sex scene between Kathleen and one of the brothers.
“This (film) really showcases just how incredibly versatile they are as performers and how they are completely capable of carrying a film in the long form,” Canning said of Boyd and Mooney.
As little boys with their father passed out drunk, Danny and Nick would play in a clearing in the woods, pretending to be wolves. There’s a particularly poignant scene in the film where they re-enact this, howling, scratching and grunting at each other, bringing their play across the line from pretend.
The scene turned out differently from what Canning had envisioned beforehand.
“Whenever I would get to that point in the script, I would go, Oh yeah, this is the scene where they wrestle and it’s going to be playful and cathartic and bittersweet,” she said. “When we shot it, I love where that scene went. I never would have imagined it, on the page, getting to such a dark and angry place.”
Family is a recurring theme in Canning’s work, and she said, as an only child, she’s interested in the dynamics between siblings, and how far the family bonds can stretch.
“Family relationships are so layered. It’s never black and white,” she explained.
“The brothers can get into this huge wrestling, angry, awkward fight the night before, and the next day just kind of wake up and go back to letting it slide. That’s what’s really interesting about the sibling dynamic; you can really push these people really hard and hurt them, but at the end of the day, hopefully you can just shake it off.”
“We Were Wolves” will have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, and will screen at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax the following week. A theatrical release for the movie is in the works.