Brotherhood of the Wolf is a film directed and co-written by Christophe Gans, and was the film that made Gans into a sensation for a hot minute. It’s based on the myth of the Beast of Gévaudan, a werewolf-like creature that is terrorising an area of France during the French Revolution era.
A knight called Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is sent by the King to investigate, accompanied by his Native American friend Mani (Mark Dacascos). There’s political intrigue in the air because the revolution is brewing.
It’s one of the few big French period drama/action films that ended up being a major international smash. However, it’s a very bloated movie that throws together a hodgepodge of dramas, from martial-arts and action to horror and period drama. It’s also two and a half hours, which is really stretching it. And for the most part, the actors aren’t that interesting—the two male leads in particular are perfectly fine, but not special, and the characters played by Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci end up being sidelined, which was a mistake. It’s just quite excessive, and not in a good way. The pacing is not especially good, including in the action sequences.
There is some superb imagery and some great special effects (and also some that aren’t—when you finally see the Beast, that’s not great… it’s more of a CGI mess from that period when the Jim Henson Creature Shop was trying to get into CGI) and some very nice elements. There’s a bit of Sleepy Hollow-style period horror which is where the film excels. The fight scenes are a mixed bag with feeling out of place. The period drama, on the other hands, is clearly not Gans’ strong point and gets bogged down, creating a dull effect.
However, I appreciate that films like this can still be made in France, whereas it would be laughed out of the room in Hollywood. I do wish Hollywood would gamble on a film like this. Gans is clearly a talented director, but it’s messy—if he could have brought it in at a tight 90 minutes, there could have been greatness here. All of its flaws became more evident on my second viewing. A film in a similar vein (an uncommercial big-budget Western with a 40-minute peyote scene) that also stars Cassel is Renegade, which I much prefer.
In sum, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a bit overhyped. I suspect that many people have fond memories of it, as did I, but will have the same reaction on a second watch. I should like a period horror action conspiracy thriller with kung fu, but it just doesn’t work as well as it ought to! Though ambitious, some of the plot is blah, and the main characters just don’t grab me. I watched the Director’s Cut, which is about 10 minutes longer than the theatrical version—maybe the trimmed version actually worked better, because that’s probably what I saw on DVD before. It does have a nice anti-Christian message, which is always fun.
This 4K UHD/three-disc Blu-Ray set has both the theatrical cut and a newly restored Director’s Cut plus a long list of extras. These include audio commentaries with Gans, and with Cassel and Le Bihan; a new interview with Gans and Jean-Baptiste Thoret; an interview with Gans and Jean-Pierre Jackson; a featurette about the creature; behind-the-scenes footage; deleted scenes; eight featurettes covering everything from the extras to the make-up; a program on the story behind the Beast of Gévaudan; trailers and so on.