[Blu-ray Review] Scream Factory's 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' Collector's Edition is More a Collection of Scraps
The early 2000s was a great time for myself as someone with a budding interest in filmmaking, and America as a whole when it came to cinema…
…For the first time in my life (that I can recall), I watched as American cinemas showed appreciation for foreign films and gave them a wide release that encouraged the public to give them a shot. One was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The other was Brotherhood of the Wolf. Both were fantastic, with Brotherhood being 100% my type of film. Now, Scream Factory has just released a Collector’s Edition of the latter, and I’m sorry to say, the treatment feels more like scraps tossed to the wolves than any sort of dignified meal.
Directed by Christophe Gans (Silent Hill) and written by Gans and Stephane Cabel, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a fictional account of events in 18th-century France, in which a great wolf supposedly killed around a hundred people in the countryside. This story follows Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his partner, Mani (Mark Dacascos) who arrive in the Gevaudan province at the behest of the King to investigate killings committed by a strange beast. But when they get there, they not only find a monster, but a conspiracy that cuts deeper through the town than the creature’s fangs.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a film that is entirely of its time, a genre-bending adventure that is heavily stylized with a Matrix-infused style of action. Our first introduction to Fronsac and Mani sees them encountering a group of thugs beating on an old man and a woman, for which Mani promptly teaches them a lesson. Well-choreographed. Rain slowed down. Each blow freezing for just a moment to let the audience feel the impact of its brutality. The scene is just a taste of the jaw-dropping, visual wonder that is this movie. Dan Lausten’s masterful—and gorgeous—cinematography pairs beautifully with a kinetic style of editing that gets the adrenaline going without ever moving so fast that you can’t tell what’s happening during the fight.
Unfortunately, many action films that have come later haven’t employed the same sensibilities.
Playing out like a western fantasy film with elements of horror, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a stunning piece of cinema featuring jaw-dropping production design from Guy-Claude Francois. The audience is taken from lush hills to eerie caverns, mysterious though sexy brothels to temple ruins, all of it presented with an authenticity that makes the world feel real, despite the high-fantasy art of it all. Brotherhood of the Wolf is a larger than life film that doesn’t always run at the speed of a wolf—the director’s cut on the disc is around 150 minutes and you can feel that runtime—but from beginning to end it’s an epic journey wrought with beauty and terror.
Because of the heavy dose of action fantasy, some might argue that this isn’t a horror film, but I think the Beast would beg to differ. Brotherhood of the Wolf opens on the death of a woman in which she is attacked by an unseen creature and thrown against a boulder again and again. There is a disturbing viciousness to the scene that permeates all throughout. Following the Jaws method, Brotherhood exhibits patience with its monster, keeping it in the shadows as much as possible, but when we do get a look at the thing, it’s impressive to say the least. Hulking, covered in spikes and with a mouth full of steel teeth, the Beast is a terrifying creature that could sure as hell rip the American Werewolf in London to shreds. Throw in cults, incest, and a French love for human deformities in horror that some of you are probably well aware of, and Brotherhood of the Wolf is a film in which the horror strikes early and often.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is like a wolf itself, fierce, beautiful and wild, but it isn’t without its issues that might leave a hairball caught in the throat of modern viewers.
For one, the love story at the heart of everything between Fronsac and creepy hunter Jean-Francois’s (Vincent Cassel) sister, Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) is sweet at best, typical and too concerned with the idea of “love at first sight” if we’re being honest. Personally, I would’ve rather seen Fronsac get together with Femme Fatale, blood-drinking brothel worker Sylvia (Monica Belluci), perhaps the most interesting character in the film, but who am I to say? A basic female love interest in a film with themes which constantly reminds us of women’s place at the time—cue Francois saying of Marianne, “we’ll have to teach her someday how to ride like a lady”—will likely weigh too heavy for some, but that can all be forgiven. What’s harder to swallow these days is the blatant racism running rampant throughout and centered around Mani.
In an attempt to comment on white man’s ignorance, Brotherhood of the Wolf is overflowing with racist comments, including an entire scene dedicated to white snobs treating Mani—a Native American—like a party favor, asking questions like could he reproduce with a white woman? Ugh. That all makes sense for the time, and Gans does a fine job of playing into a well-worn theme of white man’s misunderstanding and cruelty towards nature, asking who is the real monster, the beast or mankind, but in doing so, Brotherhood inadvertently stumbles into the Magical Native American trope with Mani taking on whole hordes of people at once and having a sort of psychic link to the world around them. Like I said, the film is very much of its time.
Despite an approach to some themes that may not sit as well with modern viewers, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a thrilling adventure unlike anything else, then and now, which is why it’s such a disappointment that Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition is more a collection of rotten scraps. Don’t get me wrong, the features that are on the disc are great, including a couple extensive behind the scenes documentaries, but none of it is new. In fact, as far as I can tell, there isn’t a single feature on the disc that hasn’t been previously released. The disc doesn’t include the theatrical cut—as many were hoping—and perhaps most frustrating of all, the subtitles are terrible. As someone who actually used to work as a caption editor, it’s painful to see so many misspellings in the subtitles, such as “lizzard” or “hore”.
Brotherhood of the Wolf deserves better, damnit.
Scream Factory generally does a great job, so it’s mystifying that this release is so poor. Between a just “fine” transfer, no new features and awful subtitling, the only way I’d recommend this disc is if you don’t already own a previously released version with the same features. Otherwise, this isn’t even a meal fit for the Beast.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Check out the special features below and order your copy here.
(Note: my rating for the film by itself would be around 4, but the presentation of the disc knocked quite a few points off)
By Matt Konopka