Though it was considered a box office success, Brotherhood of the Wolf has mostly languished in obscurity. Twenty years after its global release, the French-made movie isn’t available on any streaming platform. And Shout Factory just gave the movie the Blu-ray treatment it deserved. Perhaps the movie’s ‘difficult to summarize’ story made it a tough sell. Loosely based on the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, Brotherhood of the Wolf combined several different genres and styles into a wildly eclectic movie.
In 18th century France, a mysterious animal terrorizes the countryside dozens of bodies in its wake. To hunt and kill the beast, King Louis XV summons his royal naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac and his Iroquois companion Mani from the New World. But when Fronsac pulls a steel tooth from a victim’s body, he suspects something much stranger is unfolding in his home country. Soon Fronsac and Mani find themselves fighting a secret sect determined to undermine the king’s rule.
Brotherhood of the Wolf Almost Keeps a Grip on its Gonzo Story
No brief synopsis could ever do Brotherhood of the Wolf justice. To say it’s an ambitious movie would be an understatement. Writer and director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill), along with his co-writer Stéphane Cabel, don’t settle on a single genre. Instead, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a dizzying array of genres and styles that immediately sets it apart. Real-life animal attacks in 18th century France, known as The Beast of Gévaudan, loosely inspired the movie. That is, Gans and Cabel use the legend as a launching pad for a movie that incorporates horror, martial arts, romance, political intrigue, and historical drama. There’s quite like its story and few comparisons come to mind. And for its first 30 to 45 minutes, The Brotherhood of the Wolf feels fresh and mysterious. Its intriguing characters and unknown monster set against political tensions makes for some early captivating storytelling.
…Brotherhood of the Wolf is a dizzying array of genres and styles that immediately sets it apart.
But Gans and Cabel eventually lose a grip on their own story. Maybe Brotherhood of the Wolf tried to do much with what’s essentially a pretty basic premise. There’s a lot of characters inhabiting what becomes an increasingly convoluted tale. If there’s a plus in the movie, Gans and Cabel never resort to spoon-feeding audiences with lazy expository dialogue. However, Brotherhood of the Wolf makes less and less sense as it goes on. The simple story of a beast terrorizing France is something entirely different by the movie’s conclusion. Fortunately, The Brotherhood of the Wolf’s friendship between its main characters and the romance lend enough emotional weight to help overcome these issues.
Brotherhood of the Wolf a Visually Stunning Movie
In addition to its unique mixing of genres, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a visually stunning movie. Though martial arts in 18th century France makes no sense, Gans injects a maximum amount of style into all of these scenes. Arguably, Brotherhood of the Wolf almost matches The Matrix for fight choreography in the early 2000s. Cinematographer Dan Lausten captures blood and water spraying from every punch in glorious slow motion. Moreover, crisp editing makes the action easy to follow – there’s no jarring camerawork obscuring anything. And the French backdrop looks exquisite. Alongside its action, Brotherhood of the Wolf includes a unique creature design that stands out. Though there’s some shaky CGI here and there, Gans keeps his beast hidden for most of the movie. When it does make full appearances the mix of practical effects and CGI mostly hold up.
Cinematographer Dan Lausten captures blood and water spraying from every punch in glorious slow motion.
Unfortunately, at two hours and 22 minutes, Brotherhood of the Wolf inevitably suffers from serious pacing issues. After an opening that calls back to the start of Jaws, Gans dazzles with a handful of martial arts-filled scenes. And the movie’s final act fulfils all of this early promise. Still the middle act drags all of this action to a grinding halt. As the movie shift from horror, action, and mystery to a political period piece, the tone completely changes. Whether it’s the juggling of too many distinct styles or the sheer length of its mid-act Brotherhood of the Wolf abruptly loses steam. Things do pick up again but Gans leaves audiences a little too much time to realize the absurdity of its story.
Brotherhood of the Wolf Overcomes Its Deficits to Demand Viewing
Few movies pack so many different genres and styles together. In its over two hours, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a horror movie, period piece romance, and political thriller all mixed together with some martial arts action. Though it often doesn’t make sense, there’s no denying it’s a completely unique viewing experience. And Gans films some beautifully choreographed action scenes -this is a stunning movie to look at. But there’s a lot of bloat in the movie’s middle that leads to serious pacing problems. Too little horror and action for long chunks of time may deter some audiences. But for cinephiles Brotherhood of the Wolf should still be a ‘must watch’ movie.