Mark Reviews Movies

BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Christophe Gans

Cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Vincent Cassell, Émilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Jean Yanne, Jean-François Stévenin, Jacques Perrin

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity)

Running Time: 2:22

Release Date: 1/11/02 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Brotherhood of the Wolf is a delightfully eclectic piece of filmmaking. It seems to be the culmination of popular French films that have made their way to the states which defy categorization with the wild abandon of their material (The Crimson Rivers and Amélie, specifically). The story takes a French legend and mixes it with elements of martial arts action, horror, mystery, historical conspiracy, romance, and sweeping epic, and the result is an overflow of viscera which I rarely witness in cinema. Now before I go too far and make this all sound like praise, there is a rather weighty flaw that comes along with such attributes, and it certainly is present here. The film is terribly unfocused and rather uneven, and although there’s really no way around it, the movie suffers from it enough to dampen the experience a little. Even with this flaw though, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a highly entertaining, occasionally frustrating piece of work.

In 1764 in the province of Gévaudan , a creature is stalking the land, killing and/or hideously maiming its victims, primarily women and children. Survivors of the attacks claim that the beast is a wolf—a large, monstrous wolf. Fear is spreading, so the Royal Court under Louis XV orders naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), just returned from New France , to investigate the occurrences and eventually lead a hunt against the monster, whatever it may be. Along for the adventure is Mani (Mark Dacascos), a Mohawk Indian Fronsac met in New France and now his blood brother. Before the hunt, Fronsac meets a cast of generally creepy people. There’s Jean-François de Morangias (Vincent Cassel), who lost his arm in an African hunting trip and his completely contrasting sister Marianne (Émilie Dequenne), who catches Fronsac’s eye immediately. There’s the pious priest Sardi (Jean-François Stévenin), who tells all his parishioners that the creature is punishment. And there’s the prostitute Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), who also catches Fronsac’s eye but for much different reasons.

The story is quite interesting, especially when taking into consideration that it’s based, in part, on fact. The film has so much going on at any given moment that it’s almost overwhelming. What keeps the whole thing level is that each element it presents works in its own right. The action sequences, with fight choreography by Philip Kwok, manage to implement lots of anachronistic martial arts and lingering slow motion shots of the fighters posing. Yes, we’ve seen this type of gimmick before, but when it works like it does here, such displays of combat appeal to and fulfill a base desire of wanting to see something that makes our jaws drop. The way in which the mystery is resolved reminds me a lot of From Hell, the Hughes Brothers’ take on the Jack the Ripper legend. Both are similar in that they forgo historical accuracy for style and that both mysteries remain such. Whereas From Hell’s conspiracy conclusion lacked credibility, Brotherhood of the Wolf seems a bit more plausible. Not entirely, of course, but it does stay true to the rest of the points the story has brought up until this point.

The horror aspects of the film are stylistic strongpoint. In a move reminiscent of Jaws, the creature is wisely kept off-screen for a good majority of the film’s length, leaving our imaginations to fill in the blanks (I think the comparison is deliberate—note the obvious similarities between the deaths of the first victims in each film). Although also like Jaws, there’s probably a rather practical reason for it. The shark didn’t work for most of Jaws’ production, and in Brotherhood of the Wolf, the computer-generated wolf looks rather shabby. Still, director Christophe Gans’ stylistic control over the scenes keeps them from misfiring. In the eventual visual introduction of the wolf, Gans directs his camera movements and cuts with an orgiastic fervor. While the wolf is most definitely not present, the violence is and that’s the important part of the killings.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, the tone changes dramatically in the end. Suddenly, the flashback structure of the narrative returns (it’s easy to forget it amidst everything else going on), and for a brief few moment, Brotherhood of the Wolf suddenly becomes this sweeping, powerful epic. How it accomplishes this is beyond me, but it really only shines a light on the inherent failings of the material. That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained the whole time; I was. I just realized in those few briefs moments what could have been and was surprised that it made me feel that it had been exactly that without actually being it.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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