Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Fairy tales have captured our imaginations for generations. This reimagining of a classic fairy tale will appeal to older audiences but I would not recommend it to younger ones.
Everything about Valarie (Amanda Seyfried) has always set her apart from the rest of the villagers. Promised in marriage to the respectable Henry (Max Irons), her heart yearns instead for a local woodcutter, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), who returns her affections and asks her to run away with him into the mountains. Their plans are thwarted when the bell is rung, signifying that a wolf has slain one of the villagers. For over twenty years they have lived in fear, bartering for their lives by sacrificing up their best livestock in exchange for the wolf not entering the village. But now Valarie's sister has been slain, devastating her parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) and Grandmother (Julie Christie). The men of the community are angry enough to go out and hunt down the beast, led by the resident blacksmith (Michael Shanks), but the village reverend pleads with them to await the arrival of a priest with experience in hunting wolves.
Rather than heed his advice, the men take up their swords and torches and go into the wilds. Disaster transpires as a result and confusion, suspicion, and betrayal enter the village at the arrival of Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who informs them their legends are a lie. The wolf does not live in the distant mountains but among them, a human with the ability to transform....
Adapting a fairy tale for the big screen is tricky and many films have tried it, but few can find that delicate balance between the underlining romanticism and horror of the original. This succeeds, at least in the sense that it is both engaging and interesting. Visually, it is stunning, full of haunting woods and a soft, often warm color scheme (in spite of it being winter). The costuming is striking but never overwhelms the actors, all of whom are adequate and in some instances very good. Oldman in particular seems to be enjoying this role, and Christie is quite ominous as the strange and slightly sinister Grandmother. The romantic triangle is a tad contrived but most of the rest of the script is good, if not intentionally misleading as it takes us in different directions with the intention of obscuring who the werewolf really is. It does a masterful job and while some of the plot twists are predictable, I appreciated that the two young men vying for Valarie's attention avoid most of the usual stereotypes.
One cannot recommend this too easily because it does approach a fairy tale with a more mature, sensual outlook, but I really enjoyed it. From beginning to end it was beautiful to look at and held my attention. It may not be for everyone but if you love fantasy and fairy tales stories as I do, if nothing else it will be a diverting way to spend a couple of hours.
One sex scene (it's much longer in the unrated version) that involves kissing; a boy and girl start to become intimate in a barn before being interrupted (lots of kissing, he unlaces her bodice, she asks if he wants her). Two girls dance together. A girl offers her body to a man in exchange for her brother's life -- he laughs at her.
Many bodies are shown hurtling through the air and falling dead to the ground; some of them have bite and scratch marks. A man's hand is bitten off (it drops into the snow and he screams in pain; the severed limb appears later); we see a man eating what appears to be raw meat, and digging into it with silver fingernails that have been forcibly inserted into his fingers; it's implied that a boy is cooked in a metal elephant for refusing to share information; an early scene has two children trapping a rabbit and discussing who should kill it (we see the dead rabbit in a flashback later).
There's a witch hunt but no actual magic. Faith is not spoken of, but werewolves can't enter the church, as it is sacred ground. Father Solomon is over-zealous, but it didn't come across as an attack against faith so much as disapproving of one man's actions.