Werewolves have existed in myth and legend in one form or another for hundreds of years, stalking the shadows and hunting humans in stories designed to instil terror. But over the years, especially in the last several decades, werewolves have changed a lot, becoming less of a monstrous curse and more into something that can often be depicted as little more than a super power. Depending on the story, werewolves have even become heroes and figures of romance in some very specific kinds of erotica (no judgement here). But the new Sam Ellis film, Eight For Silver, takes werewolves back to their roots, and creates one of the more unique and interesting takes on the genre for decades.
Eight For Silver, also called The Cursed in some parts of the world, begins in the trenches of World War I, where a group of soldiers come under gas attack before charging into battle. One of these soldiers manages to survive, but is badly wounded. Carried into a hospital tent the doctors remove the bullets from his chest, but find another inside him; one that isn’t a German round. A large, silver bullet. From here the story jumps backwards in time thirty five years, where we travel to a small estate in rural France, the home of the Laurent family. The head of the family, Seamus (Alistair Petrie) owns a piece of land that is being contested by a group of gypsies, who say that they have a claim to it themselves. When it looks like they do have a legal right to it, Seamus orders mercenaries to wipe them out.
It is here that the real horror of the film truly lies, where we get an unflinching look at the kinds of torment and torture that happened to the Roma and Sinti people across Europe at the time. The scenes are hard to watch, and more than justify why one of the gypsies places a curse on the people doing this to her and her people; a curse tied to a set of silver teeth shaped like fangs. Following the destruction of the gypsies, the population of the area begins to have the same nightmares, the same dark dreams about the site of the massacre. When one of the village boys digs up the silver teeth it sets into motion a series of events that will unleash a monster upon the local population. A monster with the Laurent family as its target.
One of the things that immediately jumps out at you when watching Eight For Silver is that this doesn’t feel like most other werewolf movies. Most werewolf films have certain rules to them, such as the moon being a key part of the transformation, and that we will often follow the infected person as they learn what has happened to them and try to fight against it. In this film the curse that afflicts the victims is less kind. Once infected you change after a few hours, no moon necessary, and once changed you don’t get to come back. The result is a threat to the other characters that is constantly there, one that isn’t just relegated to three nights a month, but can come striking even in the light of day. And the film makes good use of that.
There are a number of scenes in the film that heavily subvert expectation because the rules of these monsters are so different. Instead of dark scenes set at night with only the light of a full moon, people are left to run for their lives in the bright sun of the day. There seem to be rules around monsters that we learn when we’re children, that they come out at night, that the day is safe. The creatures here didn’t get that memo, however, and their sudden appearances in the light of day lead to some of the more frightening moments in the film.
Even though they appear in the light of day, the film does a wonderful job at keeping the wolves hidden for much of the film, only giving slight teases of what they actually look like. Ellis does a wonderful job at just giving you enough of a look at them to realise that they’re not what you’d normally expect from the genre, where you can see that they’re not huge dogs or hairy men, but something wholly unique. The small teases and glimpses builds up a picture in your head, yet when we get the full reveal the film still manages to be incredibly surprising in its creativity, giving you one of the most alien and monstrous designs for a werewolf I think I’ve ever seen. These changes make it one of the more frightening and interesting takes on the classic monster on film, and anyone in doubt of that will surely be on board following the autopsy scene; a sequence I expect to see held up as an example of why you need to watch this film on future horror lists and videos.
The visual fare isn’t just relegated to the creatures though, as the film has an eerie, almost ethereal quality throughout, in part due to the location in which it was made. Shot in the Charente region of Western France, the landscape is at times beautiful, and at others frightening. Thanks to the amount of fog and mist in the movie (whether natural to that region or not), many of the scenes and locations take on an almost dream-like quality. It becomes harder to see what’s out in the world around the characters, it feels like the vast openness is closing in around you, and it makes things oppressive. Many of the moments in the film that take place in the day only work as well as they do because of the way the landscape is presented and shot, and some of the scenes set in the brightness of day in this film are more eerie and frightening because they’re being given to us in ways that most other horror films would avoid.
Boyd Holbrook, probably better known for his roles in things like Narcos and The Sandman, takes centre stage in Eight For Silver as John McBride, a pathologist who travels to the besieged community to help find the Laurents’ missing son. Holbrook does a super job in the film playing a grieving father and husband who’s come into contact with these kinds of creatures before. Introduced as a fairly normal man to begin with, his past and his true emotions are slowly revealed across the movie in ways that feel earned. Bucking expectations for werewolf movies, where the werewolf is usually the protagonist, Holbrook gets to take centre stage as the emotionally scarred wolf hunter, and breathes more humanity and empathy into the role than any other depiction has done. Rather than the crazed, obsessive who wants nothing more than to kill monsters, he is a decent, caring, and kind man who turns the grizzled monster hunter trope on its head in delightful ways.
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Eight For Silver is a film that was so much better than I expected. Recent werewolf movies have been a mixed bag in terms of quality, and there haven’t been any for many years that I’d class as truly great. But thanks to the uniqueness of the setting, the one of a kind monster design, and some superb acting, this film has easily earned its place as one of my favourite werewolf movies. The only complaint that I have about the new release is that there aren’t enough extras included. The film comes with a trailer, and a four minute behind the scenes look, but that’s all. Having enjoyed the film so much I’d have loved to have spent time delving into it with interviews, making-of features, and a commentary or two. Sadly, I guess I will have to wait for a future collectors or special edition for those things. Despite that, thanks to the quality of the film itself I still have to give it top marks.
Eight for Silver is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 30th January.