Uncaged (2016)

Uncaged is what happens when you try to mix old school werewolves with modern technology and mix it with an overdose of misguided machismo. It has moments of humor and some decent cinematography on a shoestring budget, but its many faults eventually weigh it down. It’s not that the werewolf story is incapable of modernization – I can give you at least ten examples where it works just fine – but rather that the default themes have become sorely outdated and – much like the filmmaking technology itself – must be revised in order to fit with a changing society.

Let’s start with the base assumption. Traditionally, the werewolf transformation has been a metaphor for the primal, male sex drive that has been constrained by polite society and will eventually break free and run rampant. “Unleashing the beast”, and what not. Later films have changed the metaphor slightly – notably as a metaphor for puberty and female desire in the Ginger Snaps series – but the historical roots remain strong. The “beast” is primal, masculine sexual desire. It can only be contained by noble self-sacrifice – often promoted by a desire to protect a virtuous woman (a Madonna figure) – or by the love of a virtuous woman (again, the Madonna). The beast feeds on nameless strangers and loose women (the Whore), who are usually non-white, and is either aided or encouraged by other male characters. The beast can only come out at night and is weakened by silver. All your standard werewolf lore.

Uncaged makes the connection between sex and werewolves painfully clear – nearly every conversation the characters have revolves around men perusing sex with women. However, the desire is strictly heterosexual and male-focused. Of the few women who appear in the film, none have their own character arcs or agency. Their roles and stories are dependent entirely on the men in their lives. The three female characters each fall into stereotypical roles: the Mother (the mother of one character), the Madonna (Rose, a black woman in an abusive relationship who must be rescued by a white man – she is never sexualized), and the Whore (Crystal, the promiscuous, unintentionally sympathetic hookup of another character). Only one of them – Crystal, the Whore – has any desire or storyline unconnected to men and hers – the pursuit of the farm’s elusive, nonexistent cat – ends up being the thing that gets her horribly murdered. Rose’s entire storyline concerns the varied men in her life who are concerned with her purity – there’s an entire subplot, never fully resolved, about whether or not she was cheating on her husband with one of the werewolf victims. The film ends with Rose getting attacked and infected with the werewolf virus, which could be seen as a metaphor for sexual assault. Notably, it’s the only attack in the film that leaves a survivor – but her life is horribly changed against her will, by men – and she’s stuck at the mercy of a gun-toting man who very well might kill her for her perceived “impurity”.

The entire thing is so ham-fisted that it must have been on purpose, though for the life of me I really can’t imagine why. None of the male characters fit into these archetypes. No one gives a damn about their sexual purity – rather the opposite – and the fact that this sexual drive is apparently leading them to murder people is just…there. Without comment.

So. There’s that.

Aside from its curious views on women, Uncaged has some clunky dialog and unsympathetic character, who commit several murders without showing any particular concerned for the victims – the majority of which are women and black men.

There’s a pattern here. It’s a problem.

The movie has some interesting ideas mixed in along all the racial and gender issues, though there are a few too many plot holes for them to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, even without all the other issues, Uncaged suffers from a bounty of competition in the werewolf subgenre and doesn’t come up with anything creative enough to hold its head above the crowd. Skip this one. It made me feel gross.

 

 

 

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