#35: Brotherhood of the Wolf
This could have been so much more.
This review was originally posted to Twitter on January 10, 2019.
CW for discussion of sexual assault.
Initial release: 2001
Director: Christophe Gans
For a cult film based loosely on a notorious series of wolf attacks in 18th-century France, you’d think this movie would be a more serious take on the traditional werewolf legend. Unfortunately, it came out after The Matrix. The legend of the “Beast of Gévaudan” (which was probably just roaming packs of wolves) did a lot to shape modern werewolf lore, such as the idea that silver bullets are lethal to werewolves. Brotherhood of the Wolf initially promises to go this direction, but derails fast. There’s a lot to this movie that’s infuriating, and the back half of the movie is where it all comes to a head. So let’s discuss these issues in order, hm?
First, the good: it’s gorgeous. South-central France is depicted with all the haunting beauty, deep fog and dark woods befitting a gothic tale. Costumes aren’t skimped on, either. (Bloodborne fans may recognize a certain tricorn-hat/coat collar over face aesthetic.)
The first hint that this is not the film you sat down for is very shortly after it begins, when one of our high-collared horseriders gets into a fucking martial arts fight with a bunch of assholes. This kind of swashbuckling nonsense persists throughout the film.
Before long you start to realize this movie really likes the “magical kung fu Native American” trope. Mark Dacascos isn’t even Native American! (He’s Chinese/Japanese/Filipino/Spanish/Irish, which is admittedly quite the combo, but it’s clear they cast him because he just looked “native” enough.) The worst part is, as soon as I realized he was the token ethnic friend (and the victim of some fetishization on the part of the local hoi polloi… who were also just plain racist in general) I knew he wouldn’t last the movie. guess what? he didn’t.
There’s also the rather tacked-on romance subplot. The male lead, ordinarily a competent professional learned in all manner of disciplines, turns into a fumbling, unserious fuckboy when presented with a pretty redhead noblewoman, and it’s maddening. Worse is the fact that while he’s in town for the beast hunt, he spends his nights in bed with an expensive, mysterious courtesan who is so aggressively the femme fatale archetype she could have come out of central casting. This eventually, predictably, bites him in the ass.
The actual hunt for the beast is pretty entertaining, though if you don’t like bad things happening to hapless wolves, maybe give this one a miss. The hunters try and determine the nature of the beast and figure out where it nests, while political machinations threaten the hunt. It’s these political machinations that, in a better film, would be the primary driver of the plot. Unfortunately the whole thing’s an incoherent mess of conspiracy; the titular “Brotherhood” is basically some weirdos who think France isn’t Christian enough, and the beast is their weapon, to scare people back to Jesus.
The most infuriating part is the reveal of the beast’s handler; a couple of times, we see the handler’s hand, all long nails and knotted flesh. turns out, the noblewoman’s one-armed brother has been doing everything with one arm behind his back all along, including swinging a whipsword made of bone around. And, then, well, trigger warning: he rapes his sister. In a movie full of unnecessary scenes, this is the apex of unnecessary, because it serves almost no purpose rather than to put the hapless noblewoman into some kind of coma that only our male lead can wake her from, Snow White style. It’s ridiculous.
All of this comes together to bring the movie crashing down in the second half, as the hero goes on a full 80s action film-style rampage of revenge, daubing makeup on him and stabbing his way to victory, looking like that one guy from deadly prey. The conspiracy is exposed, the femme fatale is mysterious, everybody was kung fu fighting, etc.
The overuse of dramatic slo-mo for everything, the script that goes off the rails almost immediately, the crazy mishmash of genres that don’t fit together… it’s a disappointment, to be honest with you. That’s not even getting into how the thing only targets women. I dunno, it’s dumb. You might like it for its aggressively post-Matrix stupidity. personally i was expecting something a little more thoughtful than “French Pirates of the Caribbean with less charisma.” At least it’s pretty. It’s also just pretty ridiculous.