When movies decide to try and pull off a mash up, the results, by definition, are usually a mixed bag. Sometimes the fusing together of two disparate genres simply reject each other like a mismatched organ and the resulting mess ends up being unwatchable; but sometimes the random mash up provides a spot of cinematic alchemy and results in something you’ve genuinely never seen before.
Now’s the cue to shuffle a movie into the spotlight that seems have been all but forgotten by cult movie enthusiasts ever since its debut way back in 2001 and it still manages to this day to be one of the most bizarre collisions of genres I have even seen.
A period piece, a martial arts flick, a detective movie and a creature feature all rolled up into one stunningly stylish package; I am, of course, referring to Christophe Gans’ stumptous oddity, Brotherhood Of The Wolf.
Its the 18th Century in the province of Gévaudan and a large, mysterious beast has been tearing up peasants from the area like tissue paper. All attempts to locate and kill this toothy juggernaut and local superstition is spreading like COVID at a coughing party, so, in an effort to quell the mounting panic, the king has sent his royal naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac and his Iroquois companion Mani to play beast-busters.
Checking in with the local Count, Grégoire is introduced to his children, the fetching Marianne de Morangias and her brother Jean-François, an ex-hunter whose arm was mauled during a past excursion overseas and who treats Fronsac with mistrust. As his investigation proceeds, he begins to suspect that the beast may not be quite so mysterious as the people believe and even goes as far to deduce that the creature may actually be a trained animal.
Further adding to the conspiracy is the appearance of Sylvia, an Italian courtesan at the local brothel whose motivations may be as secretive as the identity of the masked person who is spotted apparently controlling the monster and it seems like secret forces are amassing to cut Fronsac’s investigation off at the knees. Thankfully, Mani’s truly impressive fighting skills are on hand to even the odds, even when the odds include a secret society and a captured wild animal bound up in a spikey monster suit, but will their combined skills be enough to thwart the villainous faction known as The Brotherhood Of The Wolf who are dedicated to usurp the king himself?
Born from the psyche of Christophe Gans, the French auteur who gave us the American adaption of Crying Freeman and the Silent Hill movie, Brotherhood Of The Wolf is chiefly noticable for the sheer amount of fragments from other genres nailed together in order to make its singular experience possible. Set in the world where French aristocracy swan about the place in wigs and ruffles, those not up for this truly unique presentation may openly wonder why so many people in 18th century France seem to be incredibly proficient in kung fu, however, for those primed for a movie that laughs theatrically at normal conventions, the sight of Mark Dacascos twirling through the air to kick a guy in the face is a spellbinding sight. On top of its tourettes style busts of balletic violence, Gans also drops in the Jaws-esque subplot of a giant, toothy beastie roaming the area and frequently chowing down on hapless maidens, a detective story as Fronsac tries to unravel the story behind the beast, a love story as he is drawn to the charms of Marianne and even a trace of the spy movie as Monica Bellucci’s seductive Italian proves to be key to uncovering the insidious conspiracy. It’s as mad as a box of bees and yet Gans plays things impressively straight, as if the sight of a tattooed Native American flipping over a lion wrapped in an iron-fanged battle suit is a perfectly normal thing to see in the time of King Louis XV.
Gans leaps from romance, drama, action, horror and back again with remarkable dexterity and he’s aided by a script that busts out some truly surprising twists and turns as it goes. It also helps that he has a cast that totally trusts in his batshit vision and the physical prowess of Mark Dacascos steals many a scene as he athletically beats the piss out of fur wearing marauders waving man made Wolverine claws. However, when Samuel le Bihan’s noble lead has to tag in when it comes to the fisticuffs, it’s a relief that the high quality of the action doesn’t dip. Adding appropriate levels of mysterious sensuality and sinister foppishness is Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel and while it’s no real suprise that the latter proves to be a wrong ‘un, the actual details of his villainy still contain a boat-load of shocks and a truly bitchin’ bone sword that doubles as an equally bitchin’ flail/whip thing that looks like its come straight out of an Anime film.
While the beast itself admittedly suffers from a case of 2001 CGI, the creature’s design is still damn impressive, especially when it’s being portrayed by an animatronic version supplied by Jim Henson’s Workshop – but regardless what form is being utilised, it certainly can cause some damage, even when you feel really bad for the thing when you realise that it’s really just (spoiler) an abused lion.
Quite unlike anything you’ve seen before, Brotherhood Of The Wolf is a genuine orginal that weaves history, myth and action together to make its patchwork DNA flow as freely as the blood from the ragged wound of a ravaged victim in order to present you a true beast of an experience.