Brotherhood of the Wolf

Starring:
Samuel Le Bihan as Grégoire de Fronsac
Vincent Cassel as Jean-François de Morangias
Emilie Dequenne as Marianne de Morangias
Monica Bellucci as Sylvia
Jérémie Rénier as Thomas d’Apcher
Mark Dacascos as Mani
Jean Yanne as Le Comte de Morangias
Jean-François Stévenin as Henri Sardis
Jacques Perrin as Older Thomas d’Apcher
Johan Leysen as Beauterne
Bernard Farcy as Laffont

Summary:
“Brotherhood of the Wolf” is one to check out if you enjoy action or horror movies. It’s an interesting change of pace worth viewing.

Story:
The latest overseas cinematic import, Brotherhood of the Wolf (originally titled “Le Pacte des loups”) is a French film and is entirely subtitled in English.

In 18th Century France, a mysterious beast has been killing women and children throughout the countryside. The beast looks like a wolf, but is bigger and more vicious. The King sends Grégoire de Fronsac and his Iroquois Indian blood-brother Mani to investigate the beast. Thus begins the hunt for the animal. However, Fronsac and Mani will find there’s more mystery behind the beast than they could possibly imagine.

Brotherhood of the Wolf is rated R for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity.

What Worked:
I went into “Brotherhood of the Wolf” not really knowing what to expect. I didn’t know the story or much of anything else about it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a cool action/horror flick. It’s a rather interesting mix of martial arts, French culture and countryside, action, horror, and drama. It starts out with a bit of the feel of Jaws, then turns into a bit of a Kung-Fu / horror film. It sounds weird, but it worked for me. They do a good job of keeping you guessing about whether the Beast is a strange animal, a supernatural creature, a figment of somebody’s imagination, or whatever. Even after they reveal the beast, you’re still not sure what it is until the end.

The coolest character of the whole film is the Indian Mani. He’s a formidable warrior that uses a lot of improbable and historically inaccurate martial arts moves to fight the French goons. He fights in hand-to-hand combat, with tomahawks, and other creative tricks. The contrast between French culture and a man with warpaint, arrows, and talk of totems is really intriguing. His final confrontation with the Beast makes one of the coolest action scenes I’ve seen in a while. Mark Dacascos, who plays Mani, has a long career in smaller action films, but I’d love to see what else he can do.

The movie is beautifully filmed. The countryside and backdrops are gorgeous, the costumes impressive, and the cinematography dazzling. There’s an interesting use of freezing the motion that adds a lot of impact to the fight scenes. By speeding up or slowing down the images, much more force seems to be added to the illusion of the blows. Many of the settings where the attacks take place are appropriately creepy and haunting. The sound is also cranked up to make the attacks more horrifying. The footsteps of the Beast thud, and bones of the victims crack, and the audience cringes.

This movie is also your first glimpse (and a revealing one at that) of Monica Belluci. She will have a role in the upcoming Matrix sequels. She plays a mysterious prostitute in the film.

What Didn’t Work:
This is a long film. It’s 2 hours 20 minutes long. That’s tough to sit through when you’re reading subtitles. I think it could have been trimmed a bit more. And while the subtitles were never an issue for me, they may turn off some American viewers. They become irrelevant, though, during the action scenes.

When the true nature of the Beast is revealed, it is a little bit confusing. Not everything is clearly explained and it doesn’t all make sense. I can’t get into that ending here without spoiling, but I can tell you the final explanation may not be entirely satisfying.

The computer generated beast has an interesting design, but the animation isn’t really first rate. But considering the movie is a couple of years old and the story is interesting, that didn’t matter to me much.

This film does have a lot of French trademarks such as artsy-fartsy camerawork, gratuitous nudity, and a Jerry Lewis cameo. (OK, I lied on the last one.)

Overall, though, this is one to check out if you enjoy action or horror movies.

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