Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) / Action-Horror
aka Le Pacte des Loups
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, gore, sexuality, and nudity
Running Time: 142 min.
Cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Emilie Dequenne, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci
Director: Christophe Gans
Screenplay: Stephane Cabel, Christophe Gans
Review published January 1, 2002
The Brotherhood of the Wolf (or Le Pacte des Loups, if you prefer the original French title) is a genre-busting story centered around real events, or at least, a real legend. It seems that in 1764, there were reports of some sort of a monster in the Gevaudan region of France, where for over three years it reportedly killed and maimed over 100 people, as well as their pets and livestock. Hunting parties were sent out in hopes to catch the beast, but to no avail, and all of France was abuzz with the news of the horrors it inflicted. Although accounts of the description of the beast varied, it was largely thought to have been akin to a wolf only much larger and nastier.
There's a bit more to the legend but I will let you study up on it on your own if you are truly interested in the reasons the terrors eventually ended and why. What is important to note is that many at the time believed the wolf to be a punishment from God, or perhaps a manifestation of a demon conjured up from sorcery, which stemmed from accounts that the creature was seen in the company of a man.
It is around these legends that The Brotherhood of the Wolf builds its story around, although it does inject quite a bit of artistic license to what already is probably a heavily-embellished legend over time. It attempts to give some reasoning as to the creature's existence, and incorporate many of the legends attributed to it, tying them into an overall story. This story is not meant to educate you into French history or folklore, but rather, uses the backdrop to create a piece of almost pure entertainment in a manner similar to Gladiator. Our fictitious heroes are a Frenchman, Gregoire de Fronsac (Le Bihan, He Loves Me He Loves Me Not), and his companion Iriquois friend brought over from Canada, Mani (Dacascos, Cradle 2 the Grave). Together they seem to be the only real defense against the monster, as the clan of hunters and noblemen have proven themselves impotent to the cause.
If I were one who enjoyed movies strictly for appearance, The Brotherhood of the Wolf would be one of the best films of the year. Everything that you see on screen is stunning, from the sumptuous cinematography by Denmark's Dan Laustsen (Mimic, LXG), to the lavish costumes designed by Dominique Borg (Les Miserables, I Am Dina), and the impressive visual effects by Jim Henson's crew. There isn't a frame of film that looks bad, and the direction by Christophe Gans (Silent Hill, Crying Freeman) is stylish to the core. This is a real treat for the eyes, and I appreciate every painstaking effort that must have been made to generate the visuals.
However, I don't just like films because they look great, I like them for the stories and characters, and while the story did lend for some moments of creepy thrills and historical intrigue, I never really felt any connection to any of the characters and remained mostly aloof to the proceedings as a result. There is also a great deal of suspension of disbelief you must allow the film, as you have to not only take into account that such a creature can exist, but also that 18th Century Frenchmen and indigenous Canadians adopted Asian martial arts as a form of hand-to-hand combat. For the most part, I was able to swallow down any logic problems for the sake of the adventure, but once Gregoire de Fronsac, who did not previously show any great prowess for kung fu, puts on the war paint and becomes a one-man killing machine, I feel things begin to get too far astray. The last half hour of the film descends rapidly into the realm of the absurd, and I found myself losing interest as a result, with a final showdown that looked like it belongs in a fighting game like "Tekken" than in pre-Revolutionary France.
In addition to the ridiculous nature of the style and story, there are other elements which I didn't care for, most notably a romantic angle that is not only unnecessary to the story but also is underdeveloped to the point where it actually detracts from the momentum. I also found it interesting that a film with such incredible sights and sounds seemed to have difficulty handling the less-complex visuals and sound effects. Deaths are depicted with a mere slide of a sword into the abdomen, yet with all of the sounds of a full-on disemboweling. When the creature attacks people, they slam against rocks and walls for no apparent reason, and while I can go along with the fact that such a creature exists, I can't come to terms with the weird physics employed during the maulings. And one can only wonder why everyone's blood runs about as thin as watered-down Kool-Aid.
Yet, with such a mixture of the great and the dreadful, I am still willing to give The Brotherhood of the Wolf a modest recommendation for being relatively well-done most of the time. It's a terrifically conceived action/adventure/horror flick that's as superficial as they come dramatically, but such an ambitious undertaking that one can't help but be impressed with the audacity of it. If you don't mind the nonsensical story and a huge helping of over-the-top goofiness, and like a thrilling adventure with loads of candy for the eyes, you'll probably find this more than worth your while.
I do want to mention that I hope this kind of stylish revisionism doesn't become the norm. I shudder to think of seeing George Washington performing Tae-Kwon Do, or the eleven Disciples avenging Jesus' death by studying with Buddhist monks and then dismantling the Roman Empire
©2002 Vince Leo