Some may say that only a guy could enjoy Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loupes). After all, the movie contains lots of guy elements: gore, martial-arts, and werewolves. But, there’s more to this movie than blood and guts, and although it has its flaws, it’s worth seeing.
The story takes place around the time of the French Revolution. The tale is told, at least some of the time, from the perspective of Jacques Parren, an aristocratic Frenchman about to go to the guillotine. We learn that a ferocious beast has been killing hundreds of people in a creepy little town in the south of France called Gevaudan. A man by the name of Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) has been sent by the King of France to find and kill the rampaging beast. At Fronsac’s side is his blood-brother and close companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos), a member of the Iroquois tribe. Fronsac had earlier befriended Mani, the sole survivor of a war fought against European settlers in the New World, and has now brought Mani to France to help investigate the mysterious killings. Marianne (Emilie Duquenne), a witty and beautiful woman, is the object of Fronsac’s amorous affections. But she is also the object of another man’s obsession. That man is Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel) – who also just happens to be Marianne’s brother.
The story line follows Fronsac on the trail of the killings. Will he get his man (or should we say, beast)? And if he does, what has motivated the killings? What (or who) is good, and what (or who) is evil?
The movie is often gripping. Indeed, one of its first images is that of a young woman running frantically across an open field. As she is running, she trips and falls on the ground. She then tries to climb her way up a rock, but we hear the growling of the beast and then see her get tossed around until the beast finally kills her. Perhaps taking a cue from Steven Speilberg’s opening sequence in Jaws, the director wisely does not show us the beast, allowing our imaginations to run wild.
There are many aspects of this movie that make it both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating, as well as a bloody thriller. The scenery in this movie is gorgeous, with shots of quaint southern French towns, lush open valleys, and eerie forests that have an other-worldly touch reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (And, like Crouching Tiger, this movie has fabulous martial arts scenes.) The movie forces the audience to really think about who the bad guys are: is it the beast, or is it the blood-thirsty townspeople? There are no easy answers.
The sound effects provide an intriguing element that adds to the movie’s depth. The filmmakers use freeze frames and slow motion to emphasize particular sounds, such as that of a rain drop plunging into a puddle of water. When we hear a stick being whirled through the air, we distinctly hear the “whishing” noise as if it were right next to our ears.
In addition to outstanding sound design, the costume design is first rate. The costumes are lavish, and not only accurately depict the styles of the period but help define the characters as well.
The movie does have its flaws, though none can be characterized as fatal. It was hard to believe, for example, that Mani, an Iroquois Indian could be an expert martial artist in the 18th century. Also, the director overused slow-motion shots (especially during the fight scenes). These shots were inserted so often that they became tedious. The movie seemed to run on about twenty minutes too long. Perhaps if the director has cut out more slow-mo shots, the movie would have been a better length. Finally, the movie delivers too much information to the audience. There are things we just didn’t need to know, and that didn’t contribute to the overall story and effect.
Families should discuss how the townspeople in Gevaudan dealt with the beast and its killings. How did their actions compare with the way people today would deal with a similar problem? Did the townspeople deal with their fears appropriately? What does the beast represent? Why did they pick a Native American to play one of the main character’s roles? How did he compare to Gregoire de Fransac?
Parents should know that a fair number of scenes in this movie include: copious amounts blood, gory swordfights and other very graphic violence, women in peril, and a hideous beast that terrorizes and kills dozens of people. The R-rating for this movie is appropriate both for the violence quotient and also because the movie contains a somewhat graphic sex scene in a house of ill-repute.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Sleepy Hollow,” “Interview with the Vampire,” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”