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Brotherhood of the Wolf

  brotherhood of the wolf
Samuel Le Bihan finds no humor in Monty Python's French Taunter.

© 2001, Universal Pictures
All Rights Reserved

I enjoy deeply gothic, drenched in blood, horror films as much as the next person, but the French blockbuster "Brotherhood of the Wolf" (IMDb listing) is sorely lacking in finesse. It zooms when it should zag and ducks when it should leap. It's an incomplete film that took Europe by storm, but will have a more difficult time finding interest this side of the pond.

In 1765, during the reign of Louis XV, a vicious beast is roaming the French countryside looking to dine on women, children and the men who try to stop it. The country is gripped in fear, leaving the king to send for two men, Fronsac, a scientist (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquois blood brother, Mani (Mark Dacascos, of "The Crow" television series), to put an end to the menace. But as soon as the two men get close enough to the beast to destroy it, they learn that this creature of terror has become the least of their problems.

Though mostly a scare flick, "Brotherhood Of The Wolf" also includes moments of high-flying martial arts. Mani is a character trained in kicks and leaps, and this furnishes the film with a slightly silly, Hong Kong superhero mood. Maybe a novelty in the film's native France, the kung-fu felt like leftovers to me. In this age of "The Matrix," "Charlie's Angels," and all the Asian films reissued by Miramax lately, it's hard to get excited watching people flying over each other, delivering body blows, while an overactive sound effects crew sells the hits. Not that it's unappetizing to watch, as you can clearly see the Sergio Leone/Tsui Hark effect director Christophe Gans is going for, but the fight moments seem out of place with the rest of the picture. I wanted more of the men hunting the beast, trying to deconstruct this urban legend with a body count, not endless, annoying slow-motion scenes of them fending off angry mobs one by one.

Yet, even with these scenes of violence, Gans is unable to carefully sustain the energy level equally throughout the film. When the action stops, a heavy narrative takes its place to explain just what is going on, and what will happen next. These scenes are needed to complete the story arc, but they slow the film considerably, unable to siphon the volcanic fury of the beast segments, or even the cheesy slap-fighting of the martial arts. At 140 minutes, this uneven mood weighs down the potential for blistering fun that "Wolf" promises in the opening reel.

Director Gans certainly has a deep-focus eye for the period. "Wolf" is nothing if not completely lavish in both set and costume designs. Meticulous without ever overcompensating, and grimy to the last grain of dirt, "Wolf" doesn't falter when it comes to its technical achievements. He even manages (with the help of the Jim Henson Creature Shop) to find a fully realized creature in the terrorizing beast. A mixture of CG and puppet, the beast looks great, and doesn't appear like the overproduced creatures of recent American productions. Gans keeps the beast shots to a bare minimum, thus amping up the terror. The beast sequences are the film's best, since they are the only moments of pure cinema in the film. Gans impresses with his painstaking attention to terror, and with a little less baggage next time, could easily make a film that will blow the genre out of the water.

It's tough to understand if "Brotherhood Of The Wolf" should be taken seriously. It is delivered with a straight face, yet contains moments that will most certainly elicit laughs. Walking that kind of tightrope is tough, and while "Wolf" is an interesting mix of genres, I can't honestly say that it's altogether successful.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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