Some movies can be easily summed up in a single-sentence summary. That’s always been the appeal of the “high concept” film – it’s driven by a plot that can be quickly understood and easily marketed: “Teenager goes back in time to fix up parents”; “Dinosaur zoo breaks and dinosaurs get loose.” There’s nothing wrong with this kind of movie – some of my all-time favorites fall into this camp – but it’s easy to see why Hollywood has leaned on the formula for the last 40 years or so. Other movies defy easy description, either because their plots are complicated or because they take a relatively simple premise and veer off in all kinds of different directions. One such movie is the 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le pacte des loups), directed by Christophe Gans and new to Blu-ray via a Scream Factory Collector’s Edition. Sure, you could boil it down to “man is hired to track a deadly monster,” but that hardly paints a complete picture of all that’s going on in this movie. Part period drama, part action movie, part horror film, there’s nothing else quite like it.
France, 1764: A mysterious beast is attacking and killing villagers across the countryside. Knight Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel le Bihan) and his Iroquois companion Mani (Mark Dacascos) are summoned to track and kill the monster, and while that covers the basic gist of the story, it says nothing of the Italian prostitute (Monica Bellucci) who might be a witch, nor the one-armed count’s son (Vincent Cassel) whose sister (Émilie Dequenne) catches Fronsac’s eye, nor the numerous martial arts fight sequences, nor the sword fights, nor the epic runtime (two and a half hours in its director’s cut form), nor the revival of dead characters, nor any of the countless eccentricities that make Brotherhood of the Wolf such a unique and singular viewing experience.
Less a horror movie than a massive genre mashup, Brotherhood of the Wolf is an ambitious and massive undertaking – an epic of sweep and scope, of seduction and betrayal, of life and love and death. Because it’s trying to do so much, it can be disjointed at times and sell short aspects that should come across better, but for everything in the movie that doesn’t quite work there’s something like Mark Dacascos’ character that works like gangbusters, stealing every moment of screen time he’s given. That his stuff works the best is evidence that Brotherhood functions best as an action movie over any of the other genres wrapped up inside of it. Despite its period setting, there’s a lot of Brotherhood of the Wolf that’s firmly stuck in 2001: namely the fight choreography and cinematography, which includes a lot of slow mo and speed ramping and swapping out shutter speeds and all those tricks that became commonplace in the post-Matrix landscape.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Brotherhood of the Wolf is a bit of a mixed bag. The two-disc release contains the director’s cut of the film on the first disc (no theatrical cut option is offered), with the special features housed on the second disc. The 1080p transfer appears to be sourced from an older HD master, meaning it runs a little hot (skin tones are reddish) and detail is lacking from the blocky image. The lossless audio track defaults to the English dub (there’s both a 5.1 English mix and a stereo English mix), so you’ll have to toggle the remote to get to the original 5.1 lossless French audio. The quality of the English subtitles is occasionally lacking, too, with lines that are skipped and mistakes throughout. Disc Two contains two feature-length making-of documentaries (both in standard definition), “Brotherhood of the Wolf: Guts of the Beast” and “The Making of Brotherhood of the Wolf.” There’s an interview with author Michel Louis, an expert on the story on which the movie is based, as well as 40 minutes of deleted scenes with introduction by Gans explaining why the changes and excisions were made. Finally, there are two standard def trailers for the film.
While it can’t be summed up with a simple high-concept logline, Brotherhood of the Wolf is such a fascinating, curious film, one which is unlike almost anything else, that it’s worth a look if you’ve never seen it. If you’re a fan and looking forward to adding the Blu-ray to your library, know that this release comes with some caveats, though the quality of the feature and the two making-of docs should more than justify the purchase price. While the quality isn’t up to their usual standards, it’s a welcome addition to the Scream Factory label.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 3/5