Le Grand Loup Effrayant
Uneven Pacing Mars Avant Garde ActionBy Eric Chemi
Written by StÉphane Cabel and Christophe Gans
Directed by Christophe Gans
Starring Samuel Le Bihan, Marc Dacascos, Emille Dequenne
Set in the landscape of a picturesque French countryside, Le Pacte des Loups, as the movie is known in its native language, has everything a viewer would want in an international film. A scientist-turned-soldier named Gregoire (Samuel Le Bihan) befriends Mani (Marc Dacascos), a kung fu-fighting Iroquois tribesman, during Gregoire’s travels in North America. Eighteenth-century French nobility order them to to destroy the supernatural Beast of Gevaudan that has been terrorizing towns and villages, attacking women and children along the way.
The beast, a monster of African descent, is trained by an eccentric, woman-chasing maniac (Vincent Cassell) who sometimes has one arm and sometimes has two. The beast’s power is abused by a power-hungry priest named Sardis and his cult of mask-wearing nobles and drunken, profane hoodlums who are trying to overthrow the French royalty. Of course, the film is entirely in French with subtitles, making all of this somewhat difficult to understand until the very end.
Early on, it is evident that royalty does not intend to destroy the beast, but would rather have citizens believe that the beast is dead and that they are no longer in danger. This unscrupulous desire leads to political struggles between Gregoire and the military commander placed in charge of the hunt.
The film continues with various romantic pursuits, including one throughout the story between Gregoire and Marianne de Morangias (Emille Dequenne), daughter of a local aristocrat. Once both of them are revived after their apparent deaths, it is no surprise that they should spend the rest of their time together sailing the seas to far and away places.
The special effects are definitely new to a viewer of primarily American films. The beast’s first attack is a striking example of this difference. The sudden pauses within the scene and the looped sequences of the victim being smashed against a cliff leave images that resonate for several minutes and continue to linger in the back of the mind for the duration of the film. The scenes reiterate the deadliness of the beast and the danger of the task at hand.
The movie has its share of weaknesses, including a slow first hour. The seemingly simple task of organizing a group to hunt the beast proves to be a daunting assignment. They are sidetracked by fighting between Mani and a group of ravaged hoodlums, who appear every so often throughout the film. The pacing of the film is further weakened by the agonizingly drawn-out efforts of the hunting party to kill every normal wolf running in the wild, despite Gregoire’s and Mani’s insistence that a beast with iron teeth cannot possibly be a normal wolf. The film necessarily relies mainly on its second hour to make up for the lackluster start by moving the plot along at a quicker but less understandable pace.
Visually, the beast casts the impression that it was designed and developed under the guidance of a ten-year-old with some serious social issues. When it makes its first appearance midway through the movie, one cannot help but feel a jaw-dropping sensation, saying to oneself, “What an ugly, horrendous-looking thing.” If Stan Winston (Predator, Jurassic Park) didn’t design it, it certainly looks like he did.
The brotherhood, on the other hand, carries much less impact. I almost laughed when the members of the beast-based religious cult were all standing together wearing their masks. They looked like children dressed in bad Halloween werewolf costumes. It was quite a strange sight indeed.
In general, the fight scenes are too random and don’t lend themselves well to the overall flow of Brotherhood. For that matter, they’re overly graphic as well. This flick is certainly not for the squeamish, as blood flows freely in both the battle scenes and every time Gregoire dissects a dead person or animal.
In the end, this movie is going to leave viewers either loving it or hating it. If an evening of horror, avant-garde, suspense, romance, and mutant doggies sounds like your cup of tea, then you might consider spending a couple hours with the brotherhood of the wolf.