Never quite as popular as either vampires or zombies, werewolf movies present something of a challenge for indie horror filmmakers. Regardless of storytelling liberties or creative editing, audiences inevitably expect a convincing werewolf to appear on screen. With this in mind, indie filmmaker Wayne David tries to pull of a psychological take on the werewolf narrative in Wolf Garden. Released earlier this year, David pulls triple duty as director, writer, and primary actor. To date, this under-the-radar effort has split the handful of critics who have seen it.
Somewhere in the English countryside, William has isolated himself in a friend’s cabin. As he hides from the outside world, visions of his girlfriend, Chantelle, haunt him constantly. And a mysterious creature remains locked in a shed on the property – one that William prepares raw meat for and feeds every day.
Wolf Garden Boldly Experiments With a Familiar Idea and It Works … For a While
Writer and director Wayne David – who pulls triple duty playing ‘William’ – adopts a minimalist approach to the material. Arguably, budgetary constraints limited the directions available to David. But David adjusts to these limitations by adopting what’s an initially intriguing approach to a familiar concept. And yes, Wolf Garden is ultimately a werewolf tale. No amount of artistic liberties can hide where the story goes. Nevertheless, David immediately crafts ambiguity and atmosphere that hooks you into the story’s mysteries.
And yes, Wolf Garden is ultimately a werewolf tale.
Though the plot itself is relatively thin, Wolf Garden compensates by frequently jumping back and forth between what one assumes are past and present timelines. Nothing specific in the story addresses what – if anything – happened to William’s girlfriend, Chantelle. To his credit, David avoids lazy expository dialogue – or telling us much of anything. If the imagery on screen is as dour as the English landscape, Wolf Garden still adopts a surrealist approach to narrative. What’s real and what is past – or imagined by William – is left to the audience. For at least part of the movie, this style compensates for slow pacing and an expected outcome.
Wolf Garden is Less Slow Burn, More Aimless
However, this disjointed story telling approach works for only so long before it feels aimless. And this is where Wolf Garden becomes more tedious than suspenseful or mysterious. In the absence of any narrative momentum or action David becomes over-reliant on the ambiguous time shifts. Perhaps there’s as many as two or three decent jump scares. Moreover, it’s hard to argue with David’s focus on psychological horror in place of stretching a tiny budget to convincingly render a werewolf on screen. What’s put onto the screen – no more then quickly edited glances – looks good enough to pass muster. Nevertheless, at nearly 90 minutes in length, very little happens on screen for most of Wolf Garden.
…very little happens on screen for most of Wolf Garden.
Unfortunately, the end result only exacerbates the lack of action in Wolf Garden. To some extent, the same ambiguous storytelling that creates some early mystery later hurts the final scenes. David tells us nothing about the images haunting William. Little is ever revealed about William or Chantelle’s relationship or why William remains in hiding. While audiences can infer those details it leaves the story lacking much meat to fuel the ‘psychological’ bit of its horror narrative. Given that identity and nature of the creature in the shed is also rarely in doubt it leaves much of the movie feeling empty.
Wolf Garden Has Interesting Ideas, Too Little Happening
Credit goes to Wayne David for taking a unique approach to adapting the werewolf to a limited budget setting. In particular, David’s choice of focusing on William’s isolation and treating the subject as psychological horror as opposed to emphasizing werewolf mythology is a smart creative choice. And David’s surrealist treatment of narrative and time initially compensates for the transparency of the ‘mystery’. Yet too little happens for most of Wolf Garden. More stagnant than slow-burn, most horror fans will likely lose their patient long before the finale.