FANGS, BUT NO FANGS
Director: Stuart Brennan
Screenplay: Stuart Brennan
Review: RJ Bland
Werewolves have been one of the staples of the horror genre for many years. In fact, the first werewolf movie was released over 100 years ago – a silent short-film called The Werewolf (what else?) which was released in 1913. Unfortunately it is considered a 'lost' film as all prints were destroyed in a fire at Universal Studios in 1924. Since then however, we've had a whole host of variations on the lycanthrope theme. Of course we had a smattering of Universal classics in the 40's and 50's, with The Wolf Man (1941) being the pick of the bunch. John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981) raised the bar quite considerably however - although there have been some enjoyable efforts since then – we're thinking Teen Wolf, The Howling and Silver Bullet. In terms of modern werewolf fare however, Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps are probably the standout candidates. Thing is, these were released back in the early noughties – and since then, werewolves have had to play second fiddle to their undead cousins somewhat (you can't move for zombie stuff out there). Which is why Wolf, Stuart Brennan's film about a bunch of Roman soldiers in Scotland battling for their lives against a bunch of hairy beasts piqued our interest. We headed down to Caledonia to see what all the fuss was about, armed with a crucifix and a bunch of garlic. Oh hang on...
The year is 150AD and a small group of Roman messengers are reported missing whilst en-route to the Pict King, who is in desperate need of help as his countrymen are dropping like flies due to an outbreak of plague. Rome sends a small squadron to find the missing men and bring them back. However things begin to feel off very quickly – and when they discover the body of one of the missing messengers, panic starts to set in. Why has he been ripped apart – and why are there odd animal-like footprints around the scene of the crime? They soon realise that avoiding the plague is the least of their worries...
We don't often give really negative reviews on here. We don't particularly enjoy writing them because we're very aware that even if we haven't enjoyed something, the cast and crew of said film have put months (and often years) of their lives into making that movie. It's especially difficult to be too hard on an indie movie too. It's one thing criticising the latest big budget Hollywood blockbuster but a film that's operating on a modest (or shoe-string) budget – that's a little different. However, we're here to offer open and honest reviews at the end of the day. And to that end, 'Wolf' is perhaps the most frustrating film we have ever seen on the big screen...and we've seen Hostel 2!
The alarm bells ring a couple of minutes in when you realise that the music that has been playing over the opening credits - is still playing. In fact, it keeps going, distracting you from what are supposed to be character introductions and conversations. This may sound like a bit of a non-point but it's often a trope of poor TV movies and amateur film-making. Hopes that it is just an initial misstep fade quickly as the film settles into it's groove too.
There are numerous things wrong with Wolf. Going into great detail about all of them would results in a small dissertation so we'll be as succinct as we can but try and cover all bases. The premise of the movie, which on paper sounds rather cool – is wasted on a paper thin story which offers little in terms of tension, entertainment or engagement. To compound this, the script itself is just not up to scratch, with some really perfunctory and cliché lines being thrown around in almost every scene. The characters are poorly drawn out and paper thin and unfortunately the acting is wildly uneven too. Some fare better than others but there are several performances that are particularly am-dram. There's no point singling out individuals but the ripeness and theatricality of it all almost feels as if it's some way of trying to inject some intensity and energy into proceedings. Because ultimately the biggest fault of the film is that it just isn't frightening or tense in any shape or form. Most of the action occurs off screen and is merely referenced by other characters. When the werewolves 'attack', all we see is our group of soldiers forming a circle and jabbing into the night sky. It makes for a hugely disappointing viewing experience.
Unforgivably, for a werewolf movie, we don't even really get to see any werewolves. Unless you call the brief appearance of a couple of blokes with fangs Werewolves that is. It's obvious that there are budgetary constraints at play here but there are still ways of suggesting a lurking threat or creating a sense of atmosphere on a microbudget. Hell, Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch did it and they never even showed you glimpses of the antagonist – and did it on a much smaller budget too. Director Stuart Brennan (a Bafta winning actor) proved in last year's historical horror The Necromancer (a flawed, trippy but interesting movie) that he has some degree of directorial talent, which is what makes this film doubly disappointing.
The final nail in the coffin is the finale, which is quite flabbergasting in it's abruptness. It's literally as if they just ran out of money and couldn't film any more scenes so decided just to call it day. No closure, no sense of satisfaction, no logic.
The positives – there are a few nice aerial shots of Scotland, which look as beautiful as you'd expect. There are a couple of acting performances which aren't terrible too. It's obvious that these are committed actors – just not necessarily of the required quality for a feature film that has managed to secure a nationwide cinema release.
It's a shame because the premise promised so much more. If you're after a decent werewolf flick, we suggest you dig out Dog Soldiers from your DVD collection.