Sometimes, a movie comes along that clicks with audiences almost subconsciously due to being a mishmash of influences and styles and genres. Often these movies aren’t appreciated when first released, and then become cult films when they are later appreciated. Christophe Gans’ 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf, however, was a commercial and critical hit and remains a standout in genre cinema decades later.
Boasting a new 4K restoration, Brotherhood of the Wolf is set in 16th-century France just before the French Revolution. In the province of Gévaudan, a strange beast has been terrorising the countryside, slaughtering women and children. With the local authorities proving ineffectual, naturalist Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquois companion Mani (Mark Dacascos) are brought in to track the monster and stop the killings. However, things are muddled further as the Church and the bureaucracy get involved while Fronsac falls for Count’s daughter Marianne (Emilie Dequenne), despite the lurking shadow of her suspicious brother Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel). Oh, and there’s the gem of the local brothel (Monica Bellucci), who also happens to be a spy for the Vatican.
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Brotherhood of the Wolf proudly wears its influences on its sleeve and you can pick them up as soon as the film opens. It’s a heady mix of Jaws and other creature features, Mario Bava gothic horror, and martial arts films, with Gans bringing in fight coordinator Phillip Chung-Fung Kwok, who worked on Shaw Brothers pictures and later classics such as Hard-Boiled and The Bride With White Hair. It’s full of excellent action sequences, but all of it still serves the main characters, particularly the duo of Fronsac and Mani. Le Bihan and Dacascos are a great pair with lots of charisma, although the magic Native American trope is played up a bit too much. Cassel is excellent as the creepy brother, while Dequenne and Bellucci both play well with characters that are on the opposite end of each other.
What’s great about the picture is that it’s strong in its various genre elements – it’s scary, thrilling, and a hell of a lot of fun, and Gans doesn’t hold back on blood, violence, sex, or French politics. It’s a long film – the director’s cut is 150 minutes – but it never feels like it, with the story expanding to reveal conspiracies and new antagonists underneath the initial story of a monster on the loose. Dan Lausten’s photography is wonderfully atmospheric, especially his use of light, and the editing never feels too extraneous, even with a heroic amount of stop motion. And tying it together is a thunderous and evocative score by Joseph LoDuca (The Evil Dead Trilogy) that adds a key emotional depth to the film.
Studiocanal has presented Brotherhood of the Wolf with an image from a new 4K restoration carried out in 2022. There is a 4K UHD available, but this didn’t make it to us in time for review – I think the postie is on holiday. But it’s still the best the film has ever looked and sounded, although there are some intermittent soft shots that stand out.
Also standing out is the CGI. Not in a negative way, it’s just that looking at the film in this clarity, the CG shots of the beast have that feel, especially as Gans didn’t have ILM at his disposal – the film probably cost less than Michael Bay’s craft table. However, the brilliant animatronics from the Jim Henson Company help establish the fierce nature of the beast, and it never feels anything less than a terrifying character.
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Also present are a great deal of bonus features, mainly from previous editions of the film. However, importantly they have English subtitles, which had previously been an issue. With commentaries by Gans and Le Bihan/Cassel, as well as the documentary The Guts of the Beast, this is very helpful and allows a deeper look at the creation of the picture.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is genre-mashing at its finest. It’s exciting, scary, funny, and sexy, and it features Monica Bellucci’s breasts crossfading into a mountain range. Who can ask for anything more?
Brotherhood of the Wolf is out now on Blu-ray and 4K UHD from Studiocanal.