Sunday, 15 September 2019
Directed by Stuart Brennan
UK cinema release print.
Wolf is written by Stuart Brennan and George McCluskey, who both play main parts in this film... and it’s directed by Brennan. It’s one of those movies which, even before you get to the cinema, presents you with a puzzle. That puzzle being... how in heck did anyone manage to make a movie with the premise, Roman legionnaires versus Werewolves in Scotland, without it getting any kind of promotional publicity at all. I mean come on... Romans VS Werewolves (which would have been a better title, by the way) is something everyone is going to want to watch, right? This film, however, wasn’t even a blip on my radar until I looked up what was on at the cinema over the weekend and found it listed as opening the next day. I promptly went to one of the only ‘two performances per day’ screenings and asked the one fellow audience member I encountered if he’d seen any promotion for this and he basically repeated to me my own feelings on it. That being, ‘nope, only found out by looking up cinema times’ and ‘they had me at werewolf’. So there you go.
And then the film, which isn’t half bad, by the way, started playing and, right away, the mystery of the lack of publicity was revealed. That being that this production obviously had very little money to speak of. I can’t seem to find details of the budget on the IMDB for some reason but it becomes obvious that this story of a group of Romans and their scout who are sent from behind the safety of Hadrian’s Wall and into the forest, to track down some missing soldiers supposed to be offering peace with the Picts, was definitely on the micro-budget level when they can’t even afford to show Hadrian’s Wall in the movie. And also, later on, there’s a ‘time lapse’ shot of stars which looks like a badly manipulated slide shot.
So, yeah, I’m guessing there was no money available for a marketing budget and I’m kinda surprised this one didn’t play at FrightFest a few weeks ago... although, power to these people for getting their movie out into cinemas (although it’s not looking like it’s been scheduled for a release in any other country, as yet).
And... it’s one of those films that reveals its lack of facilities while simultaneously making you realise how clever and creative the cast and crew are being in managing to get what they did get up on screen. Let’s look at some of the more positive elements because, frankly, it’s a nicely made movie, despite the lack of funding.
Okay, so the plot is simple but effective, as you slowly see the team of Roman men and women slowly picked off by... ‘things unseen’ for the most part. And, what it lacks in budget, it makes up for with some quite good dialogue. Clichéd, for sure, as the majority of the team bond and villains are singled out by their actions and allegiances but it’s quite effectively written and the cast perform it spectacularly. I loved the way that it really demonstrated how the Romans took their fighting strategies and formations seriously in the face of the enemy. George McCluskey as the leader of the group is very solid and the three main female characters among the cast... played by Adanna Oji, Jennifer Chippindale and the scene stealing Victoria Morrison... are all absolutely wonderful here too. There’s not a bad one in the lot, to be honest but, I’m not going to name check everyone here.
And then there’s the creative way of shooting this. I’ll tell you now, to save disappointment, when I say that the film obviously had a low budget, that stretches to including any werewolf makeup whatsoever, unless you count fangs. The werewolf attacks which punctuate the film at certain points are masterpieces of mis-direction where you feel, rather than see what is going on. So blurry, silhouettes of figures running at speed in the front of the camera with the reactions of the Romans caught in long shot behind them before cutting back to the various human cast and then cutting back out again in short bursts are very much the order of the day here. And lots of hand held camera throughout the movie, of course.
The director has definitely learnt the old school horror trick of 'less is more' which has been with us throughout the history of the genre on screen and which makes even more sense when you don’t have anything really to show or, as in some movies, something really badly designed. When you do finally catch a glimpse of a werewolf they are pretty much just naked people with fangs so... yeah... people gone feral. That being said, although you don’t see any physical transformations in this, the ostentatious vomiting which accompanies the ‘non-transformations’, post-bite, are quite effectively performed and just about manage to carry the weight of the idea for the length of the feature.
There’s even a nice ‘feminist horror’ pitch threaded through the DNA of the movie which is tapped into for the final scenes. This isn’t just a ‘final girl’ movie its... yeah, like I’m going to put spoilers in here. You need to watch this one for yourself because, frankly, these people are going to need your money and I just hope, with skilled craftsmanship like this, given the budget, that they get to make another feature sometime soon.
Also, I can find no details of who actually composed the somewhat synth heavy score for this but it’s actually pretty good also. Lots of cymbals, scraping metal and percussion to emphasis the chaos in the battle sequences and it’s quite appropriate to the film, even though it’s somewhat anachronistic to the period being filmed. As is most historical scoring so, no problems there. It’s also got a kind of strident three note motif which actually kept the melody gong around in my head on the journey home too so... yeah, if I could get a CD of this score it would be nice but I don’t see a release happening in the near future, to be honest.
Other than that, though... what more can I say. It’s obvious that, with a script and premise like this, a much bigger budget could have made Wolf a truly great piece of genre cinema. As it is, the genius of the cast and crew give us something that is more than entertainingly watchable on a more modest scale and which, frankly, deserves a lot more attention than I expect it’s going to get. Sure, some things look a bit unpolished but I was amazed by just how good this did look in places and the enthusiasm for the material by the cast and crew is obvious from what’s caught on screen. If you are in the mood for something a bit different from the majority of films playing in cinemas this week then get yourself down to see Wolf because, frankly, I can’t imagine this one will last more than a week at the cinema and it’s very much worth a watch for fans of horror. Definitely a good candidate for a ‘mates around for drinks and a movie’ all-nighter, if it gets a home video release.