Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Company Of Wolves Review

For as long as anyone can remember, Werewolves have been a very popular literary element for myths, legends, fairy tales, books, comic books, movies, music, puppet shows and every other form of storytelling ever invented. They can represent the frightening changes that one feels in their bodies as they develop from children into fully-grown adults. They can also represent the dark and suppressed desires of man that may erupt uncontrollably at any given time and without remorse or respect. Who hasn’t felt the call of the wild at some time or another? On a full moon in a clear, black sky, who doesn’t suppress the urge to get on all fours, bay to the night and rip apart the person standing next to you? I know I have.

For those of you who have ever enjoyed either werewolf mythology or fairy tales the way they are supposed to be told (you know: dark, gritty and full of death), there is little reason you would not enjoy this film. The Company of Wolves is a series of tales about Werewolves told through the nightmares of Rosaleen, a young woman living a suppressed and unfulfilling life. In her nightmares, she lives in an ancient forest town with her mother and father and spends much of her time with her Granny (Angela Lansbury). Granny takes a particular shine to Rosaleen due to the recent death of her sister, who was eaten by wolves. Granny knits Rosaleen a bright red shawl and tells her folk tales of the dangers of wolves and men whose “eyebrows meet”. The biggest critiques I have for this film all stem from the technical aspects of the production, specifically, bad lighting and cinematography. Despite this, the acting, writing and special effects are pretty spot on. I like to tell people this movie’s heart is in the right place, because of its frank and authentic respect for its subject matter. Most importantly, like all good fairy tales, it captures an intrinsic message about the natures of good, evil and the call of the wild within all humans on a subliminal level. If I do say so myself, this film seizes the essence of a Grimm Fairy Tale better than any other film I have ever seen (feel free to throw me some recommendations for others…I’d love to see them).

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. It has been a long time since I have seen a film with this high a budget and this level of blatant misuse of lighting and cinematography. The entire time I was watching, I struggled to believe that the scene took place on anything other than a set built on a sound stage. Interestingly enough, the set looked really cool. What killed the illusion was the over use of master shots and the incredibly harsh and unrealistic lighting. So who is to blame? That was a very tough question to answer but damn it if I wasn’t not going to try. My first instinct was to blame the director, Neil Jordan. Neil is a veteran writer/director in Hollywood and was the mastermind behind such films as In Dreams, The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. He is also the man most responsible for making the film, having co written it, directed it and pursued the writer of the original short story, Angela Carter, to achieve the rights for it in the first place. Despite that over half way through the movie the production value increased, the majority of the film is flat, fake and unimaginative with its visual storytelling. Isn’t the director the mastermind behind every aesthetic and creative decision on a film production? Surely he is the one to blame, I thought to myself. But as I was busy grinding my axe and readying myself to pay Mr. Jordan a visit at his home, I decided to give the film a second chance. 

On my second screening, I realized how unfair I had been for laying the blame on Mr. Jordan. After all, it wasn’t really the film as a whole that was a problem; it was the technical aspects. So I got to thinking, who is the head of the lighting and camera departments? The answer is the Director of Photography, Bryan Loftus. I have never seen this man’s work before in any other movie, so I am not in a position to bash his skills as a cinematographer. But I feel more than privileged to condemn the job he did for this picture. Perhaps at the end of the day Mr. Loftus is not the cinematic devil of film making (cough, cough, Tommy Wiseau. Cough, cough). For all I know, he could have excelled to cinematic excellence since the 27 years this film was made. But I get the feeling that with a better DP, Mr. Jordan would have made a much more classic and memorable piece of cinema. Finally, I won’t spoil it, but the ending definitely leaves you wanting more. Perhaps this is a good thing, but I found myself scratching my head a little longer than I wanted too. Oh well. This is an early Neil Jordan piece, and that is evident specifically from the costume and makeup designs. It looks like the characters are prototypes for Jordan’s 90’s mainstream classic, Interview with the Vampire. Specifically, their style of dress and the long flowing hair on top of the heads of the rugged mythical beasties make them look suspiciously like Louis and Lestat. But this isn’t really a bad thing.

The movie had some stellar special effects. It’s chock full of decapitations, werewolf transformations, mutilations and fairly innovative visual effects. It is clear that Jordan was profoundly inspired for the transformation sequences by the two heavy weight champions of the modern day interpretation of the Werewolf, The Howling and an American Werewolf in London. However, he makes the sequence unforgettable by adding his own creative spin to it, which to my knowledge had not been used before (the werewolf clawing its way out of the mouth of its human form). The only flaw I saw in any of this was that I sometimes saw too much of the transformation. Looking at an animatronic for too long takes away It’s believability, and as such, I wish the werewolf transformations were masked just a tad more with slightly dimmer lighting and less inserts of the effect (once again, I blame bad lighting and bad cinematography). The decapitations were awesome. My favorite gag is when the husband of a young woman chops off the head of a werewolf and it falls into a bucket of milk. The wolf head is completely submerged in the milk and bobs back up as a human head, all in one shot. Classic. Though to be fair, I should mention I raised an eyebrow not once but twice when I saw Rosaleen’s childhood toys come alive and attack her sister when she shrinks down to their size. Those costumes are laughably bad. But this sequence was simply not enough to make me hate the art department.

The writing was very impressive. The story was fairly intangible and may not sit well with major blockbuster audiences. But it offers a great deal of insight into the mind of young people, specifically young ladies. We watch Rosaleen learning to cope with the darkness of the world as she grows from her innocent self to a more sophisticated and in some ways, corrupt individual. I have definitely seen more linear stories about the loss of one’s innocence, but this fairy tale reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass (the original literary piece, not the Disney movie). The environment is dream like and fantastical, but it is frightening and dangerous as well. The allusions to Little Red Riding Hood are very clear and speak to the post-punk young teen audience of the 80’s effectively, and even many young people today. Ironically the only thing to make this movie dated is the bad mother fucking lighting and bad mother fucking cinematography!

The cast oozes with talent. We’ve got David Warner, Angela Lansbury, Terence Stamp (playing THE DEVIL!), Stephen Rea and a million other celebrities from across the pond. I don’t know what it is about the British, but they have a great deal of integrity in every performance they put on, no matter how silly the film they are in may be. Perhaps it is because they understand the implications of coming from the land of the immortal bard and wish to live up to that standard. But such a speculation would be a digression to this review, perhaps saved for a future blog (or to be forwarded to a professional, like this blogger I once read from with valuable insight on Shakespearian history and acting http://blackswanditty.blogspot.com/).

Do yourself a favor and see this movie. If you like such dark fairy tales as Legend, Labyrinth, the Dark Crystal, Mirror Mask and The Never Ending Story or if you like Werewolves or the werewolf genre at all, this is going to be worth your time. Sit through the bad parts, they are mostly clustered in the beginning. You might even benefit from a second viewing.  I know I did.  Remember, the ending is far better than the first half.  It picks up fairly quickly and the payoff with Rosaleen and the Wolf is awesome.

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1 comment:

  1. I never heard of this movie, but it does look like it'll be a cool movie. What made you watch this & how did you find it?