Brotherhood of the Wolf
2001, R, 142 min. Directed by Christophe Gans. Starring Jérémie Renier, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Jean-François Stévenin, Mark Dacascos, Samuel Le Bihan.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 18, 2002
Finally! The world's first historical romance-cum-horror movie-cum-chopsocky papal conspiracy epic! Films this schizophrenic come along once in a, um, blue moon, as it were, and how many of them can boast what appears to be Sega mascot Sonic the Hedgehog's evil twin? Only this Gallic free-for-all, which, at a cool 145 minutes, manages to pack both the French Revolution and a bevy of busty brothel babes into a mix already so gloriously overpacked with gorgeous art design, smashing cinematography (courtesy of Dan Laustsen, who also helmed DP duties on Guillermo del Toro's Mimic), and some first-rate CGI hedgehog effects that the whole experience is akin to taking a whirl in some giant, cinematic salad spinner. It's 1765 and famed naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Bihan, doing a keen impersonation of Highlander's Christopher Lambert) has returned to his native France to heed the call of the Church, which promptly sends him off to discover the truth behind a vicious beast terrorizing the countryside around the rural village of Guvaudan. With his Iroquois man-at-arms Mani (Dacascos) at his side, Fronsac quickly finds himself enmeshed in a bizarre plot that involves the local priest Sardis (Stevenin) and the ill-tempered, one-armed man Jean Francois (Cassel), both of whom have their own explanations for the gory goings-on. This is France, of course, and no quasi-historical epic of this sort would be complete without at least one gaudy brothel and a local courtesan (here played by Bellucci of Bram Stoker's Dracula) with somewhat more than romance on her mind. There's also Dequenne's lovely, rosy-cheeked Marianne, younger sister to the aforementioned single-limbed Jean Francois, who may or may not hold the key to the rampaging horrors that nightly surround the townsfolk. What Brotherhood of the Wolf lacks in plotting (and there's certainly no shortage of exposition) it makes up for with some simply stunning battle scenes, usually featuring no more than a handful of combatants getting the stuffing (and viscera) knocked out of them by the Beast. Unlike most films which, these days, rely solely on computer graphics to create their monsters, Brotherhood uses some remarkably restrained work from no less than Jim Henson's Creature Shop to bring the film's horrors to life, and when combined with some earache-inducing Foley and sound effects work, the final product is eminently thrilling. There's one absolutely perfect shot of the barely glimpsed critter stalking an unaware de Fronsac through the gloomy woods, and it's one of the best uses of CGI I've ever seen. The fight scenes, of which there are many, are finely choreographed and not at all confusing; you always know who's high-kicking whom in the choppers, for once. On the minus side, Brotherhood has so much going on at any given moment that it's easy to lose track of the various characters' alliances and animosities. Despite an overlong running time and a punishing amount of violence and gore, it's a deeply ambitious picture, one of the most expensive and original to come out of France in many years, and recommended to anyone who has ever gotten their butt kicked by Sega Co.'s annoyingly bouncy mascot. Take that, you!