Imagine a fairy tale... but with grit, blood, stylized camerawork, and lots of French kung-fu.
That about sums up "Brotherhood of the Wolf," a gritty horror/martial-arts/erotic/action movie loosely based on the French legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, but with a chilling story woven around it. Christophe Gans could have given it a bit more character development, but it's a simple flaw in an otherwise horrifying, intense experience.
An enormous, savage wolflike beast is killing young women and children in the French countryside. And so royal naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Native American sidekick Mani (Mark Dacascos) arrive to investigate, and find that the local authorities are incompetant, the Beast is larger than any wolf, and it's still savaging the locals.
Mani and Grégoire set about tracking down the beast, finding it to be too large and intelligent (and with metal fangs too). But something more sinister than animal attacks is going on -- Fronsac uncovers a mysterious, treasonous society connected to the Beast, and a mysterious courtesan (Monica Belucci) with hidden motives.
It may be based on a real incident, but "Brotherhood of the Wolf" soon takes off into its own storyline. And director Gans crams the whole thing with whatever he likes -- horror, action, political period drama, and some French martial arts. It's like an old fairy tale mutated into a live-action anime.
And Gans' direction style can include a little of everything too -- he handles rosy-skied romantic scenes with the same dexterity as raw sex scenes, rainy sludge and bloody chases. And he handles the camera just as well, although the style comes as a bit of a shock in a period film -- it zooms down cliffs and through underbrush, rapid-pans, and lingers on the fairy-tale landscapes of the French countryside.
One of the best examples of this is near the beginning, with Mani and Grégoire encountering a pair of gypsies being bullied, and Mani whipping the bullies with savate and a little la canne. It's a wild, dizzying scene, and thoroughly effective in showing these guys as a force to be reckoned with. But at the same time, Gans wraps the beginning and end in a sense of poignant regret.
If there's a flaw, it's that the plot and rich direction take up so much time that it's hard to wedge in some character development. Bihan fares pretty well as the inscrutable taxidermist, and over the course of the movie, you develop a liking for him and his girlfriend. But it would have been nice if the characters of Mani and Sylvia were explored a bit more than they were -- as it is, Belucci and Dacascos do amazing jobs with their characters.
This horror/action/period/French kung-fu flick breaks all the rules, and it's all the more enjoyable for it. A glorious action classic, and a must-see for cult film lovers.