Friday, October 22, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 21: Brotherhood Of The Wolf

Cryptozoology is one of those fields of study that sounds both far cooler and far more plausible then it actually is. Traveling around the world investigating weird and wonderful animals sounds brilliant, but I bet it boils down to looking at lots of previously undiscovered insects, undiscovered because no-one else could be arsed, and maybe the occasional duck with odd colours on it. I bet that cryptozoologists don't come face to face with quasi-supernatural wolf-like monsters all that often really.

Set in rural France (France again!) Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) is a fictionalised retelling of the true story of the Beast of Gévaudan that terrorised that part of the country during the 1760’s. After the strange wolf-like beast has killed a large enough number of the local peasants’, word of the creature reaches the royal court and the king sends help to the region in the form of Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a globetrotting zoologist and his Native American companion and blood-brother Mani (Marc Dacascos). The pair has been tasked with finding out what’s going on and assisting in bringing the beasts reign of terror to an end.

Upon arriving in the area Fronsac and Mani are greeted with a group of locals who are kicking the shit out of an old man and a younger woman, who they claim is a witch or some such and thus displaying the regional taste for superstition. Out two heroes reveal that they don’t take that kind of thing lying down and Mani in gives a demonstration of his martial arts abilities by knocking the jaysus out of the mob.

Fronsac meets up with the nobility who rule the province and explains to them not only his experiences around the world but also his disbelief in anything supernatural going on with the beast. As he settles into life with the aristocracy he makes friends with the Marquis d’Apcher (Jérémie Renier), who shares many of his views, and falls for Marianne de Morangias (Émilie Dequenne) the daughter of a local Count. Marianne has a brother, Jean-François (Vincent Cassel), who is an avid hunter and had lost an arm to a lion while in Africa and is still quite bitter about the whole thing, which he reveals whenever he gets a few drinks down his throat.

The beast continues attacking and a large and unruly hunt is organised by the commander of the soldiers stationed nearby who had promised to kill the beast. During the preparations for the hunt some of the hunters have a go at Mani, who holds his own until the fight is broken up by Jean-François shooting one of the attackers with a gun he’d had specially made that allowed him to use it one-armed. Jean-François is partial to loading that gun with silver bullets though he claims it has nothing to do with werewolves but instead is out of vanity, in that he likes to sign his kills.

The hunt is a disaster for the wolves living in the Gévaudan forests, but Fronsac is not convinced that they killed the beast and he is quickly proven right. The King, embarrassed by the whole situation and taking flak for not getting it sorted (like Obama and that business with BP) sends a new military man to get things done. This proves to be purely a PR exercise and Fronsac is the one left to deal with the beast, but first he has to discover its true nature and, shockingly, determine who is controlling the beast.

Shhh, be vewy vewy quiet, I'm huntin' a wascally wabbit!

As the opening credits of this movie rolled last night I knew that someone, somewhere, will object to its inclusion in the 30 Days of Fright due to its apparent lack of horror credentials, and that same person or persons will definitely complain about the absence of werewolves. Personally I feel that a large, possibly supernatural, beast conducting wholesale slaughter of humans in the countryside is pretty much the definition of horror, and that, as a country dweller myself, if that were happening near me I’d be pretty fucking horrified! As for there werewolves bit, there are plenty of wolf references in the film, including the name of the film, the word “werewolves” is used at least once, and one of the characters is riding around town with a gun loaded with silver bullets, so if you don’t like that you can fucking lump it!

Brotherhood of the Wolf is really more of a subtle creature-feature type film than straightforward werewolf movie, and the creature plays second fiddle to the setting, with everyone involved in the production seeming to revel in the mid-eighteenth century costumes, mannerisms, and props. But like kids in a school play, they couldn’t maintain any semblance of historical authenticity, as right from the start Brotherhood has scenes of martial arts that are far more modern then the setting. In some respects, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a lot like Plunkett & Macleane in that it deliberately applied modern cinema techniques (like stop and go slow motion in the middle of a piece of action) to prevent the audience from being too removed from the material and to avoid the stuffiness that can creep into a period film, while all the while allowing for cool costumes.

The copy of Brotherhood I watched is unfortunately dubbed into English from the original French, as opposed to the subtitled version which is always preferable to dubbing, so it’s hard to judge the actors on screen as one of the principle components of their performances was removed. The dubbing actors did an alright job with the exception of whoever did Marianne’s voice, though I don’t blame her, it’s just that her voice sounded far too old for the girl on the screen so the blame rests with the dubbing casting director, who should be shot or hanged or subjected to whatever appropriate punishment the Casting Directors union allows.

Brotherhood of the Wolf tells a good tale, with intriguing and exotic characters put into mad situations that are entertaining to watch – the scenes in the brothel are just plain trippy and definitely add to the sense of horror as you’re put off balance by them. If there’s a failing in Brotherhood though it’s in the length of the movie, in the second hour things drag on a bit, but that’s not much of a problem really.

Two Thumbs Up for Brotherhood of the Wolf

Check out these links if you don't believe me:
Beast of Gévaudan:

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