As Carmilla recently refreshed the vampire movie as a restrained period drama, heavy on the gothic and oblique meaning; so Eight For Silver draws new blood in the werewolf genre – to haunting and handsome effect.
Written and directed by Brit, Sean Ellis (who also serves as cinematographer), it bookends with World War One’s trenches which – via a curious non-German bullet found in the abdomen of a wounded French soldier – casts back to events in 19th century rural France when odious landowner Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) violently clears a group of Roma people from his land. Cursed by his victims with their last breath, Laurent subsequently sees his young son, Edward, disappear as well as his house and the nearby village plagued by the same night terrors.
Journeying pathologist, John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) is brought in to investigate the horribly mutilated body of a local teenager and suggests that the problem might be somewhat worse than Laurent and his hunting hounds might handle. And before long the community is being stalked through the vineyards, woods, and washing lines by a mysterious and deadly beast...
Ellis, who previously wrote and directed Anthropoid and Metro Manila, has an eye for arresting imagery and a knack for tension-building, ratcheting up the action from dour discussions by candlelight, fraught matrimonial silences and brumous forests, to horrifying ethnic cleansing, dreamscapes, and rabid attacks. (All still clad in a signature gloaming mist, mind).
A scarecrow motif is genuinely disquieting and the creature – a febrile and mucus-y Geiger-esque creation by Jean-Christophe Spadaccini – taps into the visceral horror of an infectious threat. It’s easy to draw an empathic line between the indiscriminate slaughter and transmissible trauma of lycanthropic terror and our current pandemic fears, which could make this austere horror slay in a way it might not have done another year.
Part of Ellis’ evocative success is in his casting; Petrie, Holbrook and Kelly Reilly (as the torn wife of Laurent) are unexpected deployment and bring a certain gravitas to proceedings – even if they also deliver incongruous/Hollywood-shorthand-for-period RP accents to a French-centred story. Petrie is particularly good as nostril-flaring gentry not too bothered by a spot of genocide; and while Holbrook’s usual drawling swagger is tempered, his dexterity with a gun and latent family sorrow leans into the Narcos persona that made him a star.
Well executed if not entirely original – with werewolves, what is? – Eight For Silver (the title taken from a children’s nursery song) is an assured, engaging chiller that takes an ambitious bite out of the wolfman legacy which should satisfy bloodlust audiences while also engaging dramatically.
For more Sundance coverage, be sure to check out our Sundance 2021 preview on all the must-see movies from this year's festival.