Before Jack ripped Brit whores to pieces courtesy of a possible Crown conspiracy, the Beast of Gévaudan was tearing into peasant women and innocent children on the slopes of southern France. If Jack signaled the 20th century, director Chrisophe Gans’s beast portends France’s guillotine glory days. Louis XV sends philosopher/scientist Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquois blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos) to smoke the beast out of its cave only to stumble across a ludicrous web of spiritual-political twists and turns. Incapable of being categorized (think The Last of the Mohicans meets The Matrix by way of Original Sin), Brotherhood of the Wolf has artifice working shamelessly to and against its favor. The film’s pre-revolutionary angst is never less than ludicrous while its roughshod tonality is not quite as consistently Grimm as that of Sleepy Hollow’s. Nonetheless, Gans’s Gallic super-production is so outrageously trashy it’s impossible to resist.
Fronsac and Mani appear on the scene shortly after the titular beast cracks a woman’s spine against a Gévaudan cliff. Mani catches the attention of the town’s most popular peasant/witch woman soon before she inexplicably strokes a horse and swaps saliva with a couple of knife-wielding freaks (oh, the French!). Mani has a hard time scoring a whore at the local brothel while Fronsac hits pay dirt with Monica Bellucci’s Sylvia, whose drawing-blood shtick out-divas Angelina Jolie’s. Gans’s Jesus iconography out-crosses that of Luc Besson’s in his ecstasy-drenched Messenger while his cranking of the slow-mo mid-shot wears thin soon after Mani does the crouching tiger with the town’s local oafs. Mani may raise the dead and have the bird country’s flight plans copyrighted yet the film’s uppity French bastards have no patience for this stoic Indian. Mani’s totem-pole-happy spirituality is little more than an irrelevant appendage on the film’s smackdown treaty. Regardless of the bourgeois-as-conspirators revelation, Gans expertly stages the film’s signature fight scene as softcore Native American by way of John Woo.
Inscrutably referred to in the feminine case, the titular wolf appears halfway through the film in all her digital glory. Miss Beast scares the local children and has to choose between woman, lamb and dog (please, take the woman!) in the film’s devilishly swampy highlight. Gans’s compositions are painterly—any given frame recalls everything from Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge to John Everett Millais’s “Ophelia.” Gans’s vision, though, is schizophrenic to a distracting fault. Still, there is something to be said about unexplained snow and metal dogs doing the cockfight scene. There are eight or nine films here, all spliced to form what plays out like a Final Fantasy game held together by slip-shod politics and spirituality. There’s incest, scalping, bulging biceps, bouncing cleavage and a slew of expertly choreographed peasant deaths. At the very least, Brotherhood of the Wolf fashions the most delirious graphic match in movie history by cross-fading between Bellucci’s left breast and a snowy hilltop.
Brotherhood of the Wolf’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in anamorphic video on this Universal Home Video DVD edition. The film certainly boasts a complex, varied color palette; some halos are noticeable and while contrast is efficient during the film’s darker scenes, many of the film’s daytime sequences look overblown. The rain machine is put to work overtime in Gans’s film and the Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround is up to par. The constant fighting, growling and swordplay ensures a consistently engaging mix.
Included on this DVD edition of Brotherhood of the Wolf are cast and filmmaker bios and a deleted scenes sequence that is the next best thing to a making-of featurette and commentary track. An engaging Gans introduces five deleted and/or extended sequences from the film, each followed with behind-the-scenes footage from the making of those scenes. Throughout this 30-minute-plus sequence (also included on the far superior Region 2 edition of the film), Gans displays his passion for the film’s spiritual themes. Of all the deleted scenes, the frozen lake sequence is of special interest as it was inspired by the little-seen Hollywood masterpiece Portrait of Jennie, one of Gans’s favorite films and an unlikely influence for a film like this.
Brotherhood of the Wolf was popular enough to merit more than the deleted scenes sequence included here. If your DVD player is code-free, pick up the Region 2 edition of the film.