“Now you know the cost of greed…”
…Having just world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Sean Ellis’ gothic werewolf flick Eight for Silver aims to rewrite everything we know about the werewolf, putting an emphasis on the idea of the “curse” and what that word truly means. And you know what? It’s one of the most unique werewolf films I’ve seen in years.
Set in the 19th century, Eight for Silver opens on the battlefield of war, where a man is killed in combat. His possessions are sent back to his family, one of them a silver bullet found inside his body during surgery. Flashback 35 years earlier, and we meet John (Boyd Holbrook), a pathologist who has come to a town where people are being killed by a savage beast. The deeper John investigates, the more he learns that the beast is one he is all too familiar with.
Eight for Silver makes clear the sort of bleak, gothic, and relentlessly gruesome film it is from its opening depiction of war. Before we’ve had any encounters with werewolves, we’re witness to the screams and cries of men in trenches fighting to survive. In just the first few minutes, men are gunned down, limbs are chopped off with gut-wrenching realism, bodies are cut open, blood spraying and flesh squishing…much of the horror in Eight for Silver comes not from the werewolf, but from men. Ellis forces us to experience this with two separate, unforgettable moments in which massacres occur. Instead of bringing us into the chaos, we watch from afar in long, unflinching takes. Ellis wants us to see every act of violence man is capable of.
Man is the cruelest creature of them all, and Eight for Silver consistently reminds us of that.
This is not your fun, campy werewolf movie with dead buddies visiting their cursed friends at porno theaters or beer-guzzling Wolfcops. Eight for Silver is utterly savage and grim, shot with a cold, grey filter that brings a sense of atmospheric dread to every moment.
It also recognizes that the werewolf genre has become full of tropes that we all adore, but which have become cliché over time. Gypsies. Silver bullets. Curses. Eight for Silver employs them all, but with a fresh new spin that brings a unique mythology to the beast unlike anything I’ve seen before. Ellis updates the classic mythology while showing a genuine love and appreciation for it.
The creature does come from a gypsy curse, but that curse doesn’t act at all like we typically see with these films. Following a horrific act by Seamus (Alistair Petrie) and his men in a desperate attempt to hold onto land that doesn’t belong to them, the curse is enacted. Not through the bite of a wolf, but through a sacred totem held by the gypsies: A jaw filled with sharp, silver fangs, and the reason they refer to themselves as “the keeper of the silver”. Throughout the first half, the curse enacted by this terrible act plays out with shades of A Nightmare on Elm Street of all things. The children of the town, including Seamus’ kin, Edward (Max Mackintosh) and Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) find themselves targeted by nightmares containing an old gypsy straight out of a Conjuring movie, and one of the most frightening scarecrows ever put on film. There’s a werewolf jump-rope song; Charlotte visiting a boy wrongly accused of murder ala Nancy visiting Rod in prison; and most importantly, the sins of the fathers coming back to haunt their children.
Scarecrow horror, ghosts, and curses connected to the bible…My heaven. Eight for Silver is, if anything, a fresh coat of fur for a genre seeking new life. If I’m being vague, it’s because there is so much rich new lore going on here that I don’t want to spoil it for you other than saying, I’ve spent my life dreaming of becoming a werewolf, but not like this.
The werewolf itself is a vicious monster that will satisfy werewolf fans in some ways, while disappointing in others. It hardly looks like a wolf at all, but more like the Devil’s idea of a werewolf. What’s frustrating here is that there are plenty of astounding makeup effects which bring a realism to decapitated or ravaged bodies, yet the werewolf is brought to life with digital effects that don’t quite match today’s standards. And that’s being generous. I want to scream writing that, because the design of it is excellent. As if to cover up the poor digital effects, Ellis also uses a foggy filter whenever the creature attacks, keeping these moments quick and disorienting, so that we don’t see much. Which also leads to a finale that could’ve been so much more satisfying, had the film been more confident in the creature.
That’s what’s so strange about this werewolf movie though: the most effective and scariest elements are not the werewolf, but everything around it. Easily the most frightening scene in the entire film (and one I won’t soon forget) doesn’t even contain the werewolf, but another piece of the lore that had me wishing we had more of that. Much more of that.
Speaking of wanting more, if you’re wondering why I’ve hardly mentioned the characters, it’s because if you were to ask me to describe the characters in Eight for Silver, I would reply, “what characters?” For a film that runs a bit too long at two hours, the people in Eight for Silver are all mind-numbingly dull and underdeveloped. The cast is doing their best with what they have, but none are interesting enough to grab our attention. Hell, the characters in Howling: New Moon Rising are more fascinating than these people, and yes, I’m talking about the movie where half of it is just townspeople line dancing.
Weak characters and shoddy digital effects aside, Eight for Silver is a nihilistic love letter to gothic werewolf cinema that brings a terrifying new take to the genre. Normally its flaws would be a death curse, but there is so much creativity, abject terror and rich themes surrounding the sins of generations haunting the next, that Eight for Silver is a must-see film for any fan of werewolves, or anyone just looking for a nightmarish piece of gothic filmmaking with serious bite.
By Matt Konopka