Brotherhood of the Wolf (15)
IN an opening reminiscent of Jaws, a terrified woman flees an unseen predator that catches her, locks her in a fiercesome grip and proceeds to rip, tear and generally smash her body to smithereens.
As an opening gambit it’s as bloody as they come. In terms of Brotherhood of the Wolf, it’s merely the beginning of a magnificently gory tale that is part Hammer horror, part period epic and part Sherlockian whodunnit.
Soldier and scientist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) arrives in 18th century France with his friend Mani (Mark Dacascos) to investigate a series of slayings by a legendary beast that is slowly picking off – at least, picking the bones from – the resident peasantry.
Between them Grégoire and Mani work their way through polite society, ignoring the veiled threats of those who seek to leave things well alone and going about their own work like the forefathers of Holmes and Watson.
Periodically Mani, a taciturn yet dignified native from the Americas, is pitched into hand-to-hand combat with a variety of locals, calmly flinging them aside to the sound of breaking bones with an astounding display of super-fast martial arts straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Grégoire, on the other hand, divides his time between hunting the beast, bedding an upper class Italian whore (Monica Belucci) and wooing the coolly aristocratic Marianne de Morangais (Emilie Dequenne).
It is the voracious beast (based on the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan), however, which is the star of the film. Always lurking in the darkness, its ominous shadow looms over the action, deliberately obscuring the clues that director Christophe Gans scatters through the plot almost from the outset.
He is careful not to show the beast until the story has progressed past legend and myth into the realisation and acceptability that this animal is very much flesh and blood. Consequently he offers only glimpses of a giant monster moving quickly and tearing flesh from bone like a child pulling the wings from a fly.
This is a very classy film – a movie that is far better than perhaps its subject matter suggests. It manages to avoid all the clichés that have become standard in horror movies over the last 50 years (and principally brought about via the nefarious goings-on in Hammer pictures) through solid, no-nonsense acting, expert cinematography and a tight script.
Gans cuts between the civilisation of the nobles’ court and the wilderness of the outside world where the wilderness is ruled equally by barbarians and the wolf-like beast. At one point the scene shifts fluidly from a woman’s naked body in a bordello to snow-capped peaks – the mountains of her breasts merging seamlessly into the lair of the beast.
Much of this world is painted in dark hues, clouded by fog, drenched by rain. Such elements bolster the plot and the performances, though the best of the latter comes courtesy of Dacascos as the soulful yet deadly Mani.
Rich, frightening and epic in scale, Brotherhood of the Wolf is deliciously OTT entertainment.