Column: From Strange and Distant Shores: Brotherhood of the Wolf

by Orrin Grey

Brotherhood of the WolfBrotherhood of the Wolf (2001) Director: Christophe Gans Cast: Samuel le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Vincent Cassell, Monica Bellucci. Country: France

Only three columns in, and already I’m pushing at the boundaries of my genre. This is partly because Brotherhood of the Wolf is such an odd chimera, such a difficult beast to pin down (no pun intended). Starting with a bit of actual French history/folklore in the form of the Beast of Gevaudan, it quickly jumps from there into a series of increasingly unusual deviations from historical record and genre formula. Essentially a costume drama mixed with a martial arts pic, an adventure film, and a creature feature, there are more than a few times when Brotherhood of the Wolf feels almost exactly like what we’d have gotten if Hammer’s line of Gothic horror films had continued uninterrupted into the present day, especially when you take into account some of their later and weirder output like Captain Kronos or Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

Christophe Gans had previously directed the live-action adaptation of Crying Freeman and a segment of the 1993 Lovecraftian anthology film Necronomicon, and would later go on to helm the 2006 adaptation of Silent Hill. He does some impressive work behind the camera here, producing an often truly beautiful film full of vibrant colors and roving cinematography.

In structure, Brotherhood of the Wolf feels somewhat like a tabletop role-playing game. Adventuring naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac and his Iroquois blood-brother Mani roll into town, get into a fairly random fight, meet some NPCs (as represented by the likes of Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel), get embroiled in local politics (both overt and otherwise), solve the mystery, and fight the monster, with lots of random encounters along the way to keep the fights-per-hour ratio up.

Samuel le Bihan and Mark Dacascos are the anchors of the movie as Fronsac and Mani, and they turn in iconic performances that make the characters feel exactly as archetypal and exactly as much larger than life as the movie’s weird tone requires. Fronsac and Mani could have stepped straight out of a turn-of-the-century adventure novel, or at least a Dungeons & Dragons supplement for one.

The specifics of the story involve secret societies, civil unrest, family secrets, Papal spies, a premature burial, and one of the most awesome [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wunderkammer]wunderkammer that you’re ever likely to see. Then there’s the Beast itself. While discussing its origin and nature would definitely get us into spoiler country, I think I can safely say that, while I initially found the twist a little disappointing, it, like much of the rest of the film, has grown on me more and more with each new viewing.

Brotherhood of the Wolf certainly isn’t for everyone. The very traits that make it so endearing to me will probably work to distance it from some other viewers, and I’ve seen complaints with its length, its pacing, and its seemingly unnecessarily convoluted plot. For me, though, Brotherhood exerts a weird alchemy that makes all its disparate parts just work, and I love it unapologetically.

You can purchase Brotherhood of the Wolf on Amazon.com

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IFPColumn: From Strange and Distant Shores: Brotherhood of the Wolf