We can’t add “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” to the lineup of horror films arriving just in time for Halloween because it’s more of a Tim Burton-esque fantasy fable than a scary movie, but it does have something in common with “The Craft: Legacy” and “Come Play”: a young lead(s) who is ostracized and bullied and made to feel unwanted in this world due to a special condition.
In “Come Play,” it’s a young autistic boy who cannot communicate verbally. In “The Craft: Legacy,” it’s four teen girls who are, you know, witches. In “The True Adventures of Wolfboy,” a whimsical and well-intentioned but underwhelming and overly symbolic modern fairy tale from Czech director Martin Krejcí, the titular character, a 13-year-old named Paul (nicely played by Jaeden Martell), has congenital hypertrichosis, which is characterized by the presence of fully pigmented hair covering his entire face and body. (As we learn in a quick aside, any efforts at removal only result in the hair growing back thicker.)
Paul’s mother disappeared almost immediately after he was born, leaving him in the care of his father, Denny (Chris Messina, doing his gruff but warmhearted thing quite well, as always), who loves his son unconditionally and pushes him to try to live a normal life and to never run from the bullies. On Paul’s 13th birthday, Dad takes Paul to a state fairground and encourages him to take off his ever-present ski mask — but when he does, it’s only a matter of time before he’s humiliated by some especially cruel little punks. Awash in self-loathing, Paul returns home and finds a package that appears to be from his mother — a package that includes a map to her home in another state and a promise of an explanation for why disappeared.
With storybook title cards introducing chapters such as “The Dragon’s Dilemma” and “The Wolf Boy Deals With the Devil,” Paul sets out to find his mother. He happens on a downscale carnival, where the oily impresario Silk (John Turturro, hamming it up so hard you’re afraid he’ll pull a muscle) hires him as a freak show attraction and then refuses to pay the boy, essentially holding him against his will. When Paul literally burns down the carnival while escaping, the dastardly Silk pursues him, while at the same time, Michelle Wilson’s Police Detective Pollok is trying to track down the missing boy. Paul finds kindred spirits in the young transgender girl Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) and the eye-patch-wearing rebel Rose (Eve Hewson), who introduce him to a thriving underground scene for outcasts, show how to down shots and oh yeah, indoctrinate him into the fine art of robbing gas stations and convenience stores.
Director Krejcí, working from a screenplay by Olivia Dufault, hammers home the metaphors about how we all feel like outsiders on the inside and how we must learn to accept and embrace the differences in others. This is a good-looking film with some nice stylistic touches and even a nod to Turturro’s legendary Jesus Quintana character from “The Big Lebowski.” But it never addresses some real behavioral problems exhibited by Paul, and the moment of truth when it comes time to meet his mother (Chloe Sevigny) feels rushed and anti-climactic. At the end of the journey, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” could have used a few more crazy but “true” adventures.