Before I go to see this movie I chat with the fellow behind the counter at the Rialto about it. Following is the gist of our discussion. He made me good coffee.
“Have you seen it?”, I ask.
“No, but it looks good.”
“Yes, I saw it on your website a whiles ago and decided I’d best see it because the Beast of Gevaudan has always scared and interested me, even if that ‘Matrix meets Crouching Tiger‘ baloney is a bit of a worry”.
(It’d be below-the-belt to mock the fellow, at the time or after-the-fact, for getting a little lost at this point. What kind of nerd is aware of the historical backstory of Brotherhood of the Wolf from a cryptozoological rather than cultural/revolutionary perspective? This kind of nerd).
“Mmm. I just think you gotta go in without expectations. That Matrix stuff is just there to hook Joe Punter, whereas if you don’t look for it to be better than the book (sic) and don’t compare it to other stuff, you’ll probably enjoy it. I mean, it‘s got to be doing something right if it‘s the #1-grossing French film of all time”.
“Better than Petits Arrangements Avec La Morte, then?”
“I hope so! Cheers for the coffee”.
Well, it’s easy to see why Brotherhood of the Wolf is the top-grossing French film ever. It’s because (unlike Petits Arrangements Avec La Morte) it knows that Predator kicks ass.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is big-old derivative of everything, lifting décor from every other good werewolf movie ever (one review called Wolf the last decent example of such; I’d go further back and maintain that there hasn’t been one since Neil Jordan’s In The Company of Wolves), cinematography from, well, The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, and tiresome man/beast/savage musings from any number of movies which deal with The Savagery Of Nature or Ethnic Folk In Times Gone By. (In fact, dialogue in many of the isn’t-Mark-DaCascos’-character-a-heathen scenes could’ve been lifted straight from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ isn’t-Morgan-Freeman’s-character-a-heathen scenes, but far be it from me to suggest that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was a pinnacle of innovation worthy of stealing from). It’s also Predator with a monster that’s not as cool as the Predator.
In fact the monster is the weakest thing about the movie: legends of the Beast of Gevaudan are evocatively scary, and the first reel’s vague, dark, misty depictions of said are excellent. As are people talking about the Beast when it’s not around. But when it is around, it’s a great big porcupine with appalling CGI animation, and every shot it’s in is a vast disappointment. You want it to get the fuck off the screen already, so you can go back to being scared of the monster the movie has built up, rather than disgusted with the one it’s dredged up. (Oohh, look, wordplay). Other awful CGI threatens to ruin what would be terribly well-laid-out scenes, characters and plotlines (Vincent Cassel‘s character, in particular, is a masterful piece of action-movie characterisation, written, performed and physicalised to a tee, and damn near ruined by that gimpy great CG bone-sword dealy he pulls out in the climax); maybe everyone except me likes looking at something and knowing some geek knocked it together on a computer, I don’t know.
So basically, by being an unashamedly Hollywood-style martial-arts monster movie, Brotherhood of the Wolf gets to sidestep all the things that dear old silly old Joe Punter dislikes about subtitled movies; but it also gets to be most of the things that dear old tired old Tom dislikes about unashamedly Hollywood-style martial-arts monster movies.