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The conversation I often have with a friend of mine who knows horror much much better than I do is how few solid werewolf movies exist. They just tend to come out silly. And I don’t mean intentionally silly like Teen Wolf, I mean embarrassment like Stephen King’s Silver Bullet or the 2010 remake of The Wolfman. And then there’s the entire Underworld franchise which is more like watching a killer Bigfoot than a werewolf. I can argue for Dog Soldiers or my personal favorite Ginger Snaps, but the reality is we’re pretty hard up for good werewolf movies.
Enter into the fray Sean Ellis’s new horror epic Eight For Silver. Opening strong in the World War I trenches, a horror location that can never be mined enough, the film quickly dives 35 years in reverse to the French Countryside. The first thing Ellis does right is establish an entirely new mythology for his version of the werewolf story, so we bring in n preconceptions from other films. Specifically, this a curse from the Romani people on the imperialist Seamus Laurent for taking their land. I have a few issues with this, But I’ll let that slide for a moment and move on. Boyd Holbrook plays a pathologist who shows up in the rural town ruled by Laurent (Alistair Petrie) to investigate a series of strange happenings. Ellis wisely keeps the werewolves off-screen for the first half of the film, instead focusing on the suspense that hangs over the characters created by the gothic environs and the creepy ambient music. Since the Romani were removed, the town has descended into darkness, with villagers assaulted by nightmares and unexplained death. Is there any wonder it might have something to do with the decisions made by Laurent, a man so heartless that he has no problem with a Romani being dismembered and turned into a human scarecrow, limbs replaced with straw.
Despite being sheltered from the blood splattering on their doorstep, the Laurent family soon succumb to the same violent visions that infect the village. The disappearance of one of the children finally spurs them into action. I have to pause right now and give a shout out to Kelly Reilly, who shines as Laurent’s wife Isabelle. Reilly, who you may recognize from Yellowstone, is tremendous like she is in everything she does. In this film, given almost nothing to work with she manages to draw the eye to the human consequences after her husband’s inhumane action. There is a tragically under-developed plot point of attraction between Holbrook’s werewolf hunter and the disregarded wife left to suffer in silent solemnity.
Visually striking throughout, Eight for Silver, and Ellis as the Director of Photography, turns the lush landscape into a masterclass of Oppression. Maybe it’s because I too am tired of not being allowed to go outside, but I couldn’t help but place myself in the lives of these for women powerlessly trapped inside dealing with the sins that the menfolk have brought upon them.
Relying on practical effects, Ellis utilizes jump scares and the overbearing despair to sell the hopelessness of the situation, reminding audiences of the elevated horror of something like The Witch. Okay, the CGI was not great but that’s something that could be fixed. I mean didn’t they entirely redo the Sonic Hedgehog movie? The bigger problem is that when the Wolves showed up, I just didn’t really care. Why am I rooting for a bunch of capitalist assholes who basically hired mercenaries to carry out genocide so they could steal their land? Sure it’s not Kelly Reilly and her kids’ fault, but they’re benefiting from it and don’t really seem to have an issue with it.
The reality of Eight For Silver is that the Romani curse is well-earned, and probably should be carried out. But even if it’s carried out what does it matter, because the Romani has been killed? So essentially, I am left cheering for a werewolf to execute carnal justice. And the werewolves aren’t really a character, so I can’t really embrace them like I could in Ginger Snaps. Side note, I definitely wanted to embrace Katharine Isabelle in Ginger Snaps and would gladly add myself to her victim list if I could.
Unfortunately, the main problem with Eight For Silver is that the entire thing is based around the idea that the Romani people wander around the countryside cursing people, a prejudicial shorthand that belies an embedded racist and colonial view of the world. How much more interesting could this film have been is told from the Romani perspective? Maybe it’s flipped – there’s already a curse in place and they’ve come to end it. It’s too bad really, because the film looks amazing and was one of the most polished things I saw at this year’s Sundance. Short of reshooting the opening 20 minutes, I’m not sure that much can be done, but it would really be a great movie if it wasn’t based around the tired trope. Still, Eight For Silver is worth catching for the period perfect costuming, scintillating cinematography and Kelly Reilly.
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)