A woman is screaming while running through an open field. We see her thrown into the air as she is being violently shredded against the rough terrain. The anticipation of a great foreign tale of an evil creature destroying the town's population builds. But not so fast.
Widespread panic has hit during the18th century in France. An unseen beast has ravished the town, brutally tearing up hundreds of women and children. Few have claimed to encounter the beast, and testify that not even their guns could bring it down. The King has sent for the Chevalier de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his native American sidekick Mani (Mark Dacascos) who have come from the new world to the Gevaudan province to investigate the killings.
Beautifully shot through excellent cinematography is the highlight of this feature. The French-made film has a Sleepy Hollow resembling atmosphere, but still original to its own taste. Director Christophe Gans has a following of many loyal fans from his work in Crying Freeman and Necronomicon, both far from your mainstream movies. Brotherhood of the Wolf is however fit for the American nationwide audience and tells a familiar story on the subject of a mysterious beast.
That is all that is good I have to say about Brotherhood of the Wolf.
Whether you see the English subtitles version or the poorly English dubbed version, it won't convince you that its a genuine foreign film, even if none of the cast or film crew speak English. Or as USA TODAY critic Claudia Puig put it, "…is more Hollywood than most American films." I'll explain the Hollywood-style traits Brotherhood possesses in a moment.
For a movie whose plot centers around the dark tale of a beastly creature, Brotherhood is as boring as they come. It spans for 2 and ½ hours, and is mostly about the politics of the aristocracy, the pride the town takes in their bordello, and the debate on whether the beast exists or not. The police are arrogant, and vow to takeover when Fronsac and Mani can't produce results. Now, how many American movies can you think of that deal with authority and toe-stepping? Did I fail to mention that our heroes are introduced early on from a distance through the pouring rain? If that's not hackneyed enough, our heroes are handsome and only Fronsac, out of the entire town, can get close enough to the beautiful Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) to have a conversation with her. She is the sister of Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel), a man with one arm who shoots silver bullets from his rifle. Because a connection occurs between Marianne and Fronsac, Jean naturally has to hate him.
While the subplots added substance to an interesting and complicated plot, they seemed to linger much longer than they should have. In one scene, two men engage in conversation while throwing knives at pumpkins suspended on sticks. Is this supposed to be target practice in preparation for hunting the beast? There is also an exaggerated scene where Fronsac and Mani are brought into a bordello where we are gratuitously introduced to what France has to offer when you stroll through their towns. In the DVD edition, the director explains that several scenes were cut for length. If only he kept cutting, because Brotherhood of the Wolf is about an hour longer than it needs to be.
For the first hour, the beast is not shown. A grisly looking corpse is found, and you witness an attack during a very blurry sequence where you never get a good look at the beast. When you finally do see it, there is little to be excited about. The special effects are sub-par, but even if you take that out of the equation, the end product doesn't add up to the hype displayed in the opening scene, where a woman is literally tossed up into the air like a beach ball.
When the French aren't arguing around the dinner table or mindlessly throwing knives through pumpkins on sticks, they engage in close range hand-to-hand combat. This is what could have been an exciting feature of the movie, but the camera shots are completely obscure. You never see a fist make contact with its target, and all the blows are seen in an unimpressive slow motion fashion. When Fronsac prepares to pull off a Jackie Chan/Jet Li style stunt, his opponents seem to line up in the correct position to be dropped. The choreography (in fight or battle scenes only) is so awful, I will dare to compare it to the abominable Battlefield Earth.
When our heroes Fronsac and Mani are surrounded by dumb peasants with wolverine like claws attached to their hands, the fighting always resembles an old Bruce Lee film. Even though the odds are 20 against 2, the attackers approach one by one, only engaging after watching the guy before him get dropkicked twenty feet. For awhile, I thought he had superpowers that would be explained eventually, but to my disappointment, his freakishly powerful legs and arms were nothing more than a Crouching Tiger fantastical element added to the much needed action craving movie.
Maybe I have become desensitized over the years, but the overflow of blood and violence doesn't make Brotherhood interesting. The cheap looking fight scenes and slow-as-a-snail pace completely removed any interest I had in it. It got so tedious by the end, that I did not care when I found out one of the good/bad guys switched teams. The characters are that unlikable. You know it gets to a point of disgrace when you are rooting for the beast to kill off the most annoying characters.
I understand that you can make a good movie without giving away the identity of the creature right away; Signs is a perfect example. But what Gans substitutes for the unseen beast is inexcusable. There is a drawn out scene where the town goes hunting almost the entire population of pack wolves. Ironically, the camera is afraid to show you the horror of the beast up close, but it doesn't mind fixing itself on exploding wolves. Those that haven't been completely destroyed by the hunter's bullets are gutted.
The only thing else I can say about Brotherhood is that it just doesn't mix. The director tries to make it believable with fancy looking costumes and 18th century wigs and makeup, and yet kung fu is taking place in the courtyard. What's even worse is that the DVD ripped the Dark City trailer music! Not only does the music not fit this type of movie, it shouldn't have been taken.
A lot happens by the end of Brotherhood of the Wolf. There is betrayal, revenge, jealousy, and a conflict of emotions. Nobody likes each other because they all have their own agendas to gain rank and power. I know that I have only mentioned a few characters briefly, but the only other interesting one is the keeper of the beast, and I must not reveal his identity. But by this point, you've been let down so much after highly anticipating something good, that you really don't care anymore.