Originally appeared in The Green Man Review with Excellence in Writing Award (IEWA).
‘…truly stunning review…’ — Cat Eldridge, for The Green Man Review
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a story located at the intersection of folk tale and fact. More than a hundred people dead in France some thirty years before the Revolution, all apparently victims of a monstrous creature stalking the countryside in the region of Gevaudan (Gevaudin), confronts history with what to many remains an unsolved mystery, one to which the questions have been less than tidy and the answers perhaps too much so.
King Louis XV’s naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), having returned from the territorial war with England in North America, accompanied by his Iroquois Mohawk blood-brother Mani (actor/martial artist Mark Dacascos) arrives to investigate.
Simply put, this is a cool film: ninja-esque overtones to the constumery and outlandish weaponry, an ethereally scary monster (courtesy of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), conspiracy, surreal mood-setting, a nagging tension over whether what one is seeing is natural or the supernatural, and fight scenes dazzling and fresh even when occasionally inhibited by too much slow-motion photography. It is a sumptuous horror/action flick that one might otherwise expect from that deity of tough French thrillers Luc Besson. Christophe Gans directed this expensive film for Le Studio Canal precisely to compete with American blockbusters. They seem to be saying (quite realistically), “We know what you did last Summer… and we can do better.”
How close the Kung Fu and kickboxing (choreographed by Philip Kwok) really are to Iroquois and French fighting methods of the period is anyone’s guess, but one knows one is stepping into a fantasy when even the provincial peasantry is well versed in the martial arts. It helps to take that lovely step, because as the film reaches climax it suddenly changes, becoming not just gothic but actually goth! This is postmodern Lovecraftian horror complete with a Cthulhu-esque beast emerging from apparent oblivion and a trio of titans with divergent interests reminiscent of the immortals in *Interview With a Vampire* or The Highlander*.
Some of the characters seem familar. One of Fronsac’s two love interests – Mariane de Morangias (Emilie Duquenne) seems like a wittier Mina from *Bram Stoker’s Dracula*, and one can’t fail to see the village epileptic/witch as a kind of Hugo’s Esmeralda.
The sex is unfortunately dim (it is meant to be dark) and unerotic — with an annoying gimmick or two involved. But then it’s difficult to find a horror film where the sex isn’t the best time to hit the popcorn stand, and a break is probably required during the 144 minute film.
Happily, the violence is neither tediously gory (not another cult splatter film) nor overly dramatized; and, like the seldom-seen creature (whatever it is), it leaves room for the more powerful purely psychological aspects of the horrible.
Precisely because it is a mystery, one does not risk spoiling the film by first reading accounts of the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan. In fact, enough is somewhat obscured in the surrealism that it is actually quite helpful. One is never quite sure where the story is going to go until the very end. Even then there are a few unanswered questions, but not enough to devalue the ride. Instead one remembers that, whatever may happen in the film, when one steps outside the mystery is still eerily unsolved.
For background on the legend there are a plethora of unique and fascinating sources. One can’t go wrong with The Cryptozoology Review’s The Beast of Gevaudan and Other “Maulers”. Also intriguing is A course in medieval Gevaudanand another study lurking here.
The French PAL DVD is available. There is also a French PAL 3-DVD special edition with the documentary, storyboard, and original script on disk three, but it’s getting scarce and expensive on ebay . If you can play PAL Region 2 DVD’s and speak French, it might be fun to have.