The two times I sat in parts of it, I don’t remember Brotherhood of the Wolf being the sloppy hodgepodge I finally saw in totality last night. Like, I’m mad I was so close to posting on Facebook I’ll be watching it. Technically I did see it then, but only finally in its entirety. It’s another movie I stumbled on (but held off on viewing for ten years, I guess) but unlike Irreversible, which also had Bellucci and Cassel and the daughter-fucking Butcher by Philippe Nahon, this was a severe and disappointing deviation from my early impressions. In Irreversible’s case, it was so notorious that I kind of went all voyeuristic rubberneck and prematurely viewed some clips. I had to. But I hold no regrets. I think I’m of the kind that thinks fuck spoilers because the only true ones apply to twist endings, and those are basically an immature plot device, a director’s cop out when he knows the jig is up. They cut both ways but more often than not the wielder will show a few scars too many. Here, films tend to be like a boxing match you know the outcome of but are more interested in how its destination has been arrived to. In film, it is more the cinematic journey, the round by round, blow by blow development that is impervious to some spoilers. But I don’t go around Wikipedia reading the plot section before deciding ‘oh, I’ve got to see this.’ Listen, man.. at what point is spoiler-free truly free? We’ve long learned how to handle the asshole that spills beans every scene — Scarface fans anywhere? — so is it when you abstain from even reading the synopsis? Or watching the trailer? How gullible can you be if your sole source of intrigue is trailers, nowadays? And I never understood going in blind, as if movies were some all you can eat buffet. Was that a subliminal jab at Netflixing? Movies are like fine dining — be that a delicacy or a reputed chef, you don’t go in completely unbiased. There is some deliberation. Okay, so two analogies is enough to show you I know what I’m talking about. On to the review.
At the height of some revolution in 18th century France — and could it be THE French Revolution, because you don’t just resist the urge to remind everyone of yours if you’re French — a narrator recounts a chapter he must now pen in his memoir lest history forever lose record of one certain event. A sense of finality leads us to assume the gallows await nearby, judging by the offscreen lynch mob’s racket. That event is the Beast of Gevaudan, and the factual series of fatal attacks that terrorized the provincial community around 1760. It’s a right off the bat start that soon yields to the real development but mainly we’re told a zoologist and his New World sidekick are dispatched from Paris by the King to look into the gore fest. The costumes suit the time that goes without saying for a scope so grand, and the music, with an eclectic sound, is the first of many instances of overt pastiche that not all work. Not that such disregard of subtle authenticity is a bad choice because the music is terrific, and is the only phase of the diverse agglomeration of styles the film drew from that was well executed. It exudes all kinds of virtuosity and cool to establishing new shots and locales and even driving emotive cues. Middle Eastern lute, that weird French baroque instrument that sounds like a harp but is key-operated so it’s also a piano, strings, percussion, what have you. It’s all there. And wait to you hear the credit song. Then you’ll know how big a production and colossal miscue the whole affair was. Indeed questions of what might have been are quickly brought to the fore the moment all that is nailed is betrayed when the other film components are next up. Example. It is not until the second fight involving the American Mani and a band of gypsies that the first gastrointestinal movement (mainly flatulance) is detected. As the story unfolds, you’ll see extended sequences of similar one against many scraps.
Meanwhile in the narrative department, the beast is discussed in a court, attacks peasants off the screen, and no one being the wiser as to its nature. As a distraction, hospitality, extravagant dining, sightseeing, and a few bordello visits even, are all disguised as other channels for planning and yes politicking the hunt for the unknown creature. Encounters with the animal slowly emerge on the frame, and the first comes in the winter about two years into the story. Or an hour into the plot if you’re so chronologically inclined. The vision from a survivor — in a coma from hypothermia? — received in accidental clairvoyance and delivered in a beautiful solarized monochrome sequence finally show the beast in whole, and holy fucking shit did I jump from my bed! Jump scares are restricted to just this one moment but the visual interpretation steals the show. The hunt is called off and it gives way to vigilant exploration by the duo joined now by their host. Mani dies and the mood shifts beyond recognition or repair. By the end, it shows that it is not the medley of nuances foreign to the period and context but the genre mishmash that sink this otherwise ambitious shot at a legendary creature’s cinematic portrayal (Kung-Fu in revolution era France?). Whereas Tarantino (post Jackie Brown) borrows and steals and then reassembles something only he can name, the ‘architect’ behind Brotherhood sought to cram genres indiscriminately as to basically feature for the sake of featuring. It would seem. As if in a last ditch attempt at categorization lest viewers and critics require this film be pigeonholed. As the final act is upon us, the film prods along, beyond any identifiable theme developed thus far, because diarrhea had fully set in. And it begins to shit the bed profusely onward. Here you’ll have: the mystery, gothic intrigue, detective work, horror tropes (not bad in of themselves), fight sequences (terrible) conspiracy, shadowy coverups and secret societies all being referenced. But with an uneven depth, the genre revolving door comes off more as a desperate attempt to hold attention when a yawn begins to gather than an inventive change-up. In its defense, the technical aspect was not as bland as the narrative-and-theme juggling act was. The cinematography utilizes fade outs, neat dissolves, slow motion intercut with sped up and slowed down stutters, swoops over cliffs and rolling hills, and the perverse serenity from the foreboding imagery of rural scenery rendered both beautiful and hostile all at once. Oh, and lots of rain. In torrential volumes. Visuals wise, the Wolf itself has a weirdly conceived design involving CGI for the animated scenes but really was a lion in a mask and porcupine suit with metallic quills, a grotesque master stroke, I felt. But the fact it was a lion (a trivia nugget) was never addressed in the narrative which would have tied into the plot neatly because Africa. Anyway, my favorite scene is when it stalks de Fronsac to his beau’s hideout. After an hour’s sustained suspense it suddenly appears in the mist. Pretty chilling photography, man. Those are the only bright spots in the film and probably why I was so duped into thinking I would enjoy it many years later.
So, yeah, ten years is a long time to stay the same. We grow. Tastes evolve and more capably discern info and audiovisual stimulus. But I don’t remember a coda so underwhelming I might as well have seen a different movie altogether. Maybe I should hit em and quit em. And treat the shit like Netflix fare.