To me there are at three variants in the Lycanthrope film genre: 1) those that predominantly rely on CGI and those that use traditional prosthetic makeup effects, 2) films which go for broke and just assume yes werewolves are real and supernatural beasts, as opposed to films that explain the lycanthrope affliction through a medical condition, and 3) films that portray the monster as an upright walking man-beast (Lon Chaney, Jr.), which is contrary to the four-legged shape-shifting werewolf as popularized in films like An American Werewolf in London (1981). I like all kinds of Lycanthrope films, from upright walking beasts in Werewolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941), Cry of the Werewolf (1944), which featured a German Shepherd, to the modern CGI-mapped Underworld films (now tentatively on the table for reboots), which are not so modern anymore.
This all brings us to the American-made and Romanian-shot WER (2013), which is one of the better Lycanthrope films of the last 10 years. I found it infinitely better than Universal’s idle-brained remake of the Lon Chaney classic, starring Benicio Del Toro and retitled as The Wolfman (2010). The film opens right off the bat with action and grabs your attention when a family of three is brutally attacked by what appears to be a large animal, while camping in rural France. The husband and young boy are killed, but the woman survives to explain the attack to police.
Soon afterward, a hulking and unkept peasant named Talan Gwynek, aptly played by Brian Scott O’Connor, is apprehended by police, led by prickish Klaus Pistor (Sebastion Roché). Human rights activist and attorney Kate Moore (A.J.Cook) agrees to represent the shackled Talan. Her legal team consists of asshole mole Eric (Vik Sahay) and former boyfriend and forensic examiner Gavin (Simon Quarterman). Kate’s interview and encounter with Talan suggests she is representing a gentle, introverted, and crippled client incapable of mobility, let alone violent and brutal slayings.
Gavin performs an autopsy on the victims. The lower mandible of the father was removed and portion of the tongue was consumed. One of the thighs was chewed to the bone. The child’s arms, abdomen, lower torso and legs are missing. Gavin concludes that the bite marks and patterns are consistent with a large animal attack.
Upon meeting with Talan’s mother (Carmilia Maxim), the legal team learns that Talan is not French, but Romanian, and has a “condition” passed down through the paternal lineage of his family. After consulting with a doctor in the USA, Gavin believes the affliction may be Porphyria, described in the film as an extremely rare blood condition that leads to limbic motion retardation. The legal team decides that by demonstrating that Talan has a muscular-skeletal debilitating disease is the best defense that he couldn’t possibly murder the campers. The team finds a medical specialist to perform a Porphyria test, which consists of a corneal impression and wet reagent assay and a blinking light test. In real life this is all hogwash, but it looks good on film.
Let’s run this glass slide across your eyeball….
Now, let’s run the strobe test….
WER works both as a faux-documentary film (thankfully, it’s not a found footage movie) and a good old-fashioned horror film. Some of the cock-fighting between the lead guys gets old, but it serves a plot device. In the end we get to see some blood-letting and it delivers the goods. It’s also refreshing to see CGI used for key scenes where it would be cost-prohibitive or dangerous to use real sets, or in one key scene, have a human jump out of a building several stories above ground level. The story is unusual, with a lawyer defending someone who may or may not be a Lycanthrope. This is no classic, but director and writer William Brent Bell has fabricated an underrated, interesting and welcome additional to Lycanthrope filmdom. Claws up! I’ll watch this one again.