Film Reviews:

Brotherhood of the Wolf/Le Pacte des Loups

(Christophe Gans, France, 2001)

[Brotherhood of the Wolf]If you'd ever wondered what the offspring of An American Werewolf in London and Les Liaison Dangerous would look like (as you, no doubt, will have done) then wonder no more. Brotherhood of the Wolf is that spawn. For what this ingenious French film does is stick a scary wolf in the middle of a French period costume drama. In the Gevaudan region of 18th century France, the locals talk about a giant wolf that stalks the countryside, slaughtering grazing livestock and unwary travellers, leaving few leftovers from its snacking. Into the region ride two strangers, defenders of the weak and a dab hand at a lethal staff technique and the odd martial arts move too. Before long, the two strangers have taken up the challenge of tracking down and killing the rogue wolf. But is it just a large wild animal or something all together more fantastic as the cult known as The Brotherhood of the Wolf believe?

[Brotherhood of the Wolf]The concept is an exciting one blending the quality of a period costume drama with the terror of a werewolf stalking prey film. The result is highly commendable if not entirely successful. The blending of genres could obviously be a tricky thing to pull off but director Gans does this as well as could be expected. There are moments when the horror film fans will be wishing that the trials and tribulations of the ladies weren't examined in such detail, but, like Hammer at their very best, the period setting not only lends some sort of 'respectability' to the horror but anchors it in the real world, albeit one we are not overly familiar with.

The much talked-about fight scenes that have our heroes, led by kickbox champion turned actor Mark Dacascos, leaping around and slugging it out in slow motion fighting in torrential rain storms and mud baths make for some truly thrilling moments of cinema. Whether or not such sequences are entirely in keeping with the experience of folk in 18th century France is something those missing the point entirely are welcome to debate. I, on the other hand, was just happy to watch great fight choreography, combined with dramatic photography for a rare change and treat. The titular beast works best when kept off-screen or its exposure is kept to a bare minimum. The tension and terror created too follow the same rules. Once we get to see the beast in all its glory, the competent CGI never quite meets our imagination and the creature looses something in the process.

The success of this French language, period horror movie at the international box office (released in Canada in an alternate cut that adds 10 minutes) gives the heart hope that others will be inspired to take a few more risks. Perhaps, in place of countless horror movies that have stupid American teenagers getting mangled by deranged lone men, we will get some imaginative, creative, intelligent and exciting fantasy cinema instead. The Brotherhood of the Wolf ably throws down the gauntlet, let's hope there are more than one project out there willing to take up the challenge. 7/10

Rob Dyer

See also:

An American Werewolf in London

A-Z of Film Reviews