Our rating: 2 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Brotherhood of the Wolf is an immensely entertaining story loosely based on actual events.
In the mid-1700's, superstition runs rampant in the French countryside, which is haunted by an enormous and terrible beast known for its relentless slaughter of the peasants. There have been over a hundred mysterious deaths and so the King of France has dispatched his favorite scientist and taxidermist, Grégoire de Fronsac, to investigate. A veteran from the French and Indian War, Fransac never goes anywhere without his friend Mani, an Iroquois native from North America. Their appearance in the town is welcomed by the local aristocrats, who fear the monster and hope to bring about its end through a massive wolf hunt. Fronsac, a notorious libertine, does not take long before casting a romantic eye on the daughter of one of the district's most influential men. Marianne is spoiled and stubborn but also amused by Fronsac's attempts to win over her heart. This is not looked upon favorably by her elder brother, Jean-François, who after an entanglement in Africa with a lion has been rendered badly incapacitated through the loss of his left arm. But he is well enough to participate in the hunt, which leads to the slaughter of hundreds of wolves -- the monster, they hope, among them.
However, when further attacks escalate, it becomes apparent that their attempts have failed. It is up to Fransac and Mani to discern the origins and intentions of this otherworldly creature and stop it before the death toll climbs even higher...
One word to describe this film would be "sumptuous." It is exquisite to look at with breathtaking panoramic views, old houses filled with immense and intricate paintings, absolutely gorgeous costumes, and some of the prettiest camera work I have seen. I expected nothing from it and came away impressed but also disappointed in its problematic content. The script is imaginative and not limited by reality -- it takes us in a direction easily foreseen but that remains entertaining nevertheless. Even though I guessed who and what was responsible for the attacks in the first half hour, watching the heroes discover the truth and hoping none of the main characters would be killed kept me on the edge of my seat. True, the two and a half hours does seem a tad long toward the end and there are several shocking deaths that I did not see coming, but it was an experience that caused me to marvel at the sheer amount of enjoyment put into the script. It doesn't take itself too seriously so the audience is easily swept up into the adventure.
That is not to say, however, that the story does not have its flaws. Fronsac is likable but I had a difficult time wanting him to be with Marianne since he has an unsavory sexual appetite that usually finds him in brothels. Mani is actually the best thing about the movie, a creative and unexpected character that brings a hint of the unusual into what might be considered a bodice ripper with a horror twist. One character I have not mentioned is Sylvia (Monica Bellucci). The audience assumes she has no purpose other than sensuality but later on she becomes important. Were she not a prostitute, she would have been my favorite character in the end. This movie does not have a happy ending, as several of the main characters meet a terrible fate. One of them is brutally killed and we are uncertain if another has met a similar fate. More horrific is the implication that Marianne is raped, something the audience does not expect and that turns the stomach.
Another thing I found disconcerting is a heavy element of animal abuse and wolf genocide. The monster, we eventually learn, has been tortured and beaten since it was small in order to make it mean. It feeds on dogs chained in a makeshift arena while humans watch and cheer it on (implied but not shown). Mani and Fronsac go to great lengths to wound and capture it -- including shooting it with bullets and arrows and catching it broadside with an enormous log riddled with sharp pikes. Since by then I had discerned what the creature was, it made me feel sad rather than relieved. We watch wolves being shot, their bodies flipping up in the air, along with their pained cries. Later, when told to "make a monster" that will satisfy the king, Fronsac is shown gutting a dead wolf. Other wolves are shown having their organs removed. There is a large amount of human violence as well, but most of it is bloodless. Many scenes feature hand to hand combat: people being punched and kicked; numerous peasants are killed. One man is hit in the forehead with a flaming arrow. Others are impaled or shot. A man is thrown bloodied into a ravine to die after he has been beaten (not seen). There are two scenes of young women being attacked by the monster; in the first, the girl is slammed brutally against the rocks before her body is dragged out of sight. In the second, we only hear terrified screams. A man is attacked and killed by the creature, another nearly has his arm torn off.
There is one sex scene and an abundance of full and partial female nudity in several scenes at the whorehouse and with a dead body found in a pond. Marianne is attacked by a man who throws her to the floor and starts tearing at her clothing while the camera drifts away and her screams fade. References are made to incest, and there is a certain amount of Indian spiritualism. Mani performs various rituals and appears to communicate with a white wolf (presumably his "spirit guide"). The audience is uncertain at the end if Fronsac has brought someone back from the dead. We learn that two individual groups are working for the Vatican -- one hopes to spread ignorance and superstition in an attempt to establish a firmer need for the Roman Catholic Church, and the other has been dispatched by the Pope to stop their brutality. I thought the religious aspect was a bit weak and almost predictable, a twist that tries to establish that religion is to blame.
I wish there had been less content since without the brutality and pointless nudity, I might have considered it one of the finest and most entertaining films I have seen in a long time. It relies heavily on imagination and has an intelligent script, making it the equivalent of a "Grimm" French fairy tale.