Saturday, 21 September 2019

Review: Wolf

Cert: 15 / 85 mins / Dir. Stuart Brennan / Trailer

A werewolf movie*1 which opened on a full moon, and a Friday 13th no less? Good work. With any other project that would be seen as a bad omen, but here can be passed off as fortuitous marketing at least.

Stuart Brennan's Wolf follows a group of Roman soldiers, despatched into the wilds 'above the wall'*2 in Britannia to investigate disappearances of previous scouting parties. But they quickly find their presence is an expendable one, as shadows and folklore conspire to prevent their return...


And that's it, remarkably high-concept in its execution and with no time to get bogged down in the minutiae of lore. The characters learn little but the rumours around them and the need to survive, and that's what the audience has to work from, too. On a structural level we have the commander, the ground-soldiers, the mystic and the politician. In terms of horror movie setups that becomes the cynic, the muscle, the joker, the wildcard and The One Who Gets Bitten But Doesn't Tell The Group*3.

So while the quick-pitch may sound like 'Dog Soldiers filtered through Asterix', this is simultaneously the thing which holds Wolf back, and the same one which lets it succeed. There's the feeling it could be more, yet that's proudly what it is. Briskly paced, enthusiastically produced and well-lit in its night scenes, this is an unashamed genre flick and better for that.


And yet there are real issues here. The script is clunky and formal (particularly during the first act), and the cast can't quite smooth it out. All of the main characters are introduced at once, each laden with their own burst of background exposition. It's the sort of film where if five characters are on-screen, they all get a line each before the cut, feeling like a drama workshop where everyone's waiting for their turn to speak. And while some of the performances are quietly solid, others veer into over-acting, like daytime soap actors who never got over bring turned down for Game Of Thrones.

Visually, the shaky-cam for the action scenes is unforgivably disorienting on a cinema-sized screen, while the occasional aerial shots don't so much give us a soaring eagle's-eye view of the snowy landscape as the slightly jerky motion of someone still getting to grips with a new drone. Then the film seems to end abruptly, and what should come off as a cliffhanger feels more like the budget or location-permits ran out on Tuesday morning. If the first act of this movie could do with an extra 15 minutes to ease the pacing, the third is positively screaming for more time.


But when it comes to the meat and potatoes of the werewolf attacks, Brennan does very well with very little (while there are a number of distinct effects-shots, the real panic comes from the timeless notes of isolation and claustrophobia). Wolf feels like a low-budget festival entry rather than something intended for wider distribution; less of a presentation feature and more a promising calling-card. But I love that it exists and that it got some mainstream exposure at least.

I think there's a stronger movie to be made here, but Wolf is a damned noble effort all the same*4. It's spirited fun, perhaps not to be taken quite as seriously as the performers' demeanour would suggest.

But I want to see what Stuart Brennan can do with a bigger budget and a longer run-time...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
In all honesty, if you dig Dog Soldiers, there is stuff for you here.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
With its very limited theatrical run it's unlikely you'll get the chance, but if this pops up at a festival then give it a shot.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Probably a streamer, to be fair.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the very best will in the world, I hope not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
It's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Cole Leman, who was in Fantastic Beasts along with Nick Donald and Jorge Leon Martinez from The Force Awakens.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Studio Screen D in Poole had one walkout in the first five minutes, after an introductory wolf-scene which efficiently sets out the stall. The film is called "Wolf" and the poster is full of Roman soldiers against a snowy backdrop with fire on it. The poster is what the film is, mate. What were you expecting here, a documentary? That said, fair play to the schedulers at Cineworld Poole for queuing this one up. I can't go so far as to say I see the best movies there during my visits, but their more niche choices are always interesting at least. [ BACK ]

*2 Don't worry, there's not a solitary Scotch accent to be heard. Not least because the film is too busy applying a range of regional English accents to the Roman soldiers and their coterie. And that's good as it gives them that 'lived in' feel, in that we can assume they haven't all grown up in the same village. [ BACK ]

*3 That particular role crosses over with the aforementioned list, but no spoilers in telling you here who it is. [ BACK ]

*4 And one which underlines the thorough lack of imagination over on the Studio Horror™ side of the fence. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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