In the months leading up to its release, Bradley Rust Gray’s Jack and Diane has been marketed as a romance with a twist, a “teenage lesbian werewolf love story” about two 17-year-old girls who share a summer of love so tempestuous that they begin to undergo inexplicable, violent physical changes. It’s an intriguing premise, one that capitalizes on the recent wave of horror romances like the Twilight saga, but for those expecting traditional horror with a little edge, the film could prove to be a surprise—or a letdown.
Diane (Juno Temple), a quirky British teen on holiday in Manhattan with her aunt, is a hastily drawn sketch of unruly blond hair, DayGlo vintage frocks, and perpetual wide-eyed wonder who forms a heavy-handed contrast to Jack (an unrecognizable Riley Keough), a tough, skateboarding tomboy. The girls meet when Diane gets lost in the city, and form an instantaneous connection; after a night of passionate kissing, they’re already making plans for the future. But when Jack learns that Diane will leave in a week, miscommunication and angst quickly begin to pull them apart. This, presumably, is where the horror should begin. It doesn’t.
According to Gray, the impetus behind the film’s making was a desire to visualize “what love really feels like when you first experience it.” The story’s werewolf angle, then, is a metaphorical device. Beautifully rendered stop-motion sequences by the Quay brothers are intercut throughout the narrative, representing the inner workings of Jack and Diane’s bodies as they navigate their budding romance. Whimsical looking organs, like something out of an ‘80s children’s television program, are shown contorting, shifting, ripping apart inside of them. These brief sequences are fascinating and visually arresting, though they aren’t the least bit frightening.
The stop-motion is meant to show us that these girls are so in love that they’re turning into monsters, but because the werewolf elements of the story are never explicitly addressed (neither Jack nor Diane seem aware of their transformations, which play out as dream sequences), their effect is confounding. A movie about lesbian teens where confusion over their sexual orientation isn’t on anyone’s mind is refreshing, but Jack and Diane’s love story is about as illuminating as the story’s cryptic reliance on metaphor. Throughout, Jack and Diane get into minor tiffs which are resolved quickly with mumbles and nods and shy side-long glances (as they barely talk to each other, one wonders why they’re even drawn to one another). Lines like, “I want to unzip my body and put you inside,” while earnestly delivered, are more cringe-inducing than endearing. And scenes of the pair staring longingly into each other’s eyes go on for so long that they become devoid of meaning, not unlike the film’s alchemical fusion of genres.