Brotherhood of the Wolf is a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie. It is assembled of creature features, conspiracy thrillers, period romances and kung-fu flicks. And it is every bit the oddly awesome creation it sounds.
It also happens to be based on fact. If truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, fiction based on truth is stranger still in the hands of director Christophe Gans, who grabs the thread of the historical Beast of Gevaudan and unravels it into an absurd tangle that somehow emerges with a single—if frayed—strand intact. The Beast was believed to be a wolf responsible for dozens of deaths in south-central France beginning in 1764; though a wolf purported to be the Beast was slain in 1767, the deaths were likely caused by multiple animals, possibly even feral dogs. The fervent terror associated with the Beast grew so widespread that Louis XV, not renowned as a people’s king and fresh off ceding New France to Great Britain and Spain, dispatched two professional hunters to eliminate the threat.
In Gans’s version, the royal appointee is Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) a court naturalist, knight and, as the voiceover informs us, “fine wit.” Fronsac is accompanied by Mani (Mark Dacascos), an Iroquois and ass-whooping force of nature he befriended amid the wars in New France.
To say more about the story is pointless and would likely steer away those not already inducted in the Brotherhood. Besides, there is much to enjoy in the film’s twists, turns and tangents. The ride offers offers a little something for everyone, and perhaps an overabundance for some: Romance (including a touch of the incestuous French variety); horror (not limited to a misogynistic, horny, old man in a bathtub); action (who cares how an 18th century Native American knows Matrix-style martial arts when the fight scenes are this rad?); comedy (a snobbish writer’s improvised recitation inspired by the Beast and meant to impress a young woman has the opposite of its intended effect); sex (multiple scenes are set in a brothel, where Mani becomes a sensation); and intrigue (a religious sect circulates a book stating the Beast is punishing the people for the king’s “indulgence in philosophers”).
The movie swings wildly between the high- and low-brow. There is criticism of—and unsettling modern parallels with—the use of fear to hold a population in check and maintain political support. When one character says to his patriarch, “My father sees no evil,” and the elder replies, “My son sees evil everywhere,” one feels a Trumpian chill.
And then we get a visual transition from Monica Bellucci’s breasts to a French hillside. Which, I submit, isn’t much of a stretch considering how the Grand Tetons earned their name.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, Brotherhood of the Wolf lumbers a bit under the weight of its mechanics, but it is stuffed to bursting with imagination and soul. It is, as Frankenstein deemed his own work via the words of Mary Shelley, “a creature of fine sensations.”