Something terrible is on the loose in an isolated region of 18th Century France. Known as the Beast Of Gévaudan, this mysterious creature is preying on terrified peasants, forcing King Louis XV to call in Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a brilliant young natural scientist who is expected to solve the mystery using reason and logic. Fronsac is accompanied by a silent Native American called Mani (Mark Dacascos); together the pair set out on the Beast’s trail using a combination of cunning, wisdom and the sort of martial arts skill rarely seen outside of the Far East.
Christophe Gans’ lavish film was one of 2001’s biggest hits on the Continent, and it avoids classification as adeptly as it embraces so many different genres. At its heart it’s a homage to those English countryside-horrors of the late ‘60s — think Witchfinder General or The Devil Rides Out — the latter a definite influence as the film introduces a conspiratorial secret society in the final act. But the grand scope of the production design (looming castles, elegant costumes, massed hunts) and elements of pre-Revolution politics are the stuff of arthouse period epics like La Reine Margot, while the bone-crunching kung fu puts us squarely in Crouching Tiger territory.
In less skilled hands such a clash of influences might have resulted in a jarring mess, but Gans confidently and stylishly gives his film a tone all its own. He’s helped enormously by his cast — Bihan, Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci provide admirably straight-faced performances, but it’s Dacascos who steals the show. Previously known as a talented martial artist stuck in average straight-to-video actioneers, here he uses his physical skill to captivating effect, especially during the thrilling sequence in which he dons tribal war-paint and goes one-on-one with the cornered Beast.
It’s not perfect — 142 minutes is too long, and the ending is disappointingly cheesy. But for full-blooded entertainment, Brotherhood of the Wolf is hard to beat. And as for the Beast itself, Gans wisely does a Jaws and keeps it hidden for much of the film; when it does appear, it’s a snarling combination of flesh and metal — like the film itself, a little silly perhaps, but still very, very cool.
French director with a talent for stylish martial arts/fantasy film-making. As a journalist in the 1980s Gans founded the influential cult movie magazine Starfix, and made his debut in 1994 by contributing to Necromonicon, Brian Yuzna's horror anthology film. Crying Freeman was an above-average live action version of the popular manga, while the genre-straddling Brotherhood of the Wolf was one of 2001's biggest international hits. Game adaptation Silent Hill was a disappointment, but his retelling of La Belle et la Bete satisfied his fans.