WER (Cert 18)
1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Entertainment One) Running Time: 89 minutes approx.
Over the past few years two of horror’s most enduring monsters, the vampire and the werewolf, have been subject to some homogenising thanks to Twilight and its many clones that followed in its wake. Writer-director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) and producer/screenwriter Matthew Peterman have decided to reclaim the latter and in the process have created a unique and reinvigorating take on the werewolf legend.
Based around the found footage format (no, don’t turn away) the film opens with a montage of global news reports concerning the slaughter of the American Porter family holidaying in France. The wife Claire (Stephanie Lemelin) is the sole survivor, claiming the attack was by a human sized beast which the camcorder footage fails to corroborate. A local man, Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor), is subsequently arrested based purely on his size and hirsute appearance.
Paris based American human rights lawyer Kate Moore (AJ Cook) decides to represent Talan believing he is innocent, building a case with fellow ex-pat researcher Eric Sarin (Vik Sahay) and top animal expert Gavin Flemyng (Simon Quarterman). Through Talan’s mother (Camelia Maxim), they learn that Talan may have a hereditary condition called Porphyria which will exonerate him, but corrupt police inspector Klaus Pistor (Sebastian Roché) is keen to see Talan locked away.
Interestingly, the term “werewolf” is not uttered until the very end of the film which may sound odd. However with WER’s style being very much pseudo-documentary in feel, with its handheld camerawork and heavy use of surveillance camera footage, this neatly ties in with the idea that they are looking at a supernatural beast as their chief culprit. Thus, while we the audience may have already divined Talan’s secret the continuing bafflement of the characters in the film is perfectly valid.
Where the script works so well is in the many curveballs it throws to derail our line of thinking and put us in line with the unsuspecting police team on screen. For instance, Porphyria is an extremely rare condition, the effects of which include heavy body hair and stiffening of the bones, causing limited movement. Kate’s reasoning therefore is that an immobile Talan couldn’t possibly have attacked the porter family in such a quick and sprightly manner.
There is also a subplot involving Pistor, who was said to be responsible for the death of Talan’s father and his brusque, often obstructive manner towards Kate, his unbridled disdain for Talan and his reaction to a land dispute involving the Gwynek family suggests a bitter cop with a grudge, rather than a law enforcer committed to doing his job.
With many options open as to where to take the story, Bell doesn’t insult our intelligence and goes the route we all know it should follow and does so while adding more twists and surprises. Carnage naturally ensues when Talan is taken to Lyon for his medical examination to confirm his Porphyria and things take a turn for the worse. Meanwhile Gavin, who was bitten in a scrape with Talan, is starting to feel a bit groggy.
Bell doesn’t present us with a straight up “traditional” horror film, as you might have already surmised by the tinkering with the werewolf mythology, giving it a modern and scientifically plausible update. The first part of the film follows the procedural methods of the case being built for Talan with Pistor’s reluctant presence ever looming. This may sound dull but it actually isn’t at all, creating a solid foundation for the eventual horror to springboard from.
Spacing out the scares makes them all the more effective, teasing us with a few jumps from the most mundane of sources before unleashing the violence and gore. For a low budget film the effects are superb (save for some CGI blood) with some realistic prosthetic work that make the attacks exceptionally gruesome! One area that needs due credit is the editing which plays a huge part in heightening the impact of the massacre, creating a sense of unbridled fluidity as the body count increases.
The 89 minute run time makes WER an archetypal short, sharp shock of a film and Bell uses that time to its fullest, avoiding lengthy discussions designed to act as exposition, instead revealing everything on the go when necessary. However we are not spoon fed all the details leaving room for our imaginations and powers of deduction to piece things together, again a positive and not a negative.
Bell has assembled a strong cast for this film and it pays off, the semi-documentary feel presenting the characters in a more naturalistic light and he actors being more believable as a result. AJ Cook suitably fits the role of Kate as a compassionate yet firm woman, and her photogenic looks are never exploited or sexualised in any way which is a welcome change. Simon Quarterman gives a heck of a lot of himself to this film as Gavin while Sebastian Roché is easily dislikeable as Pistor.
Rock fans will recognise Brian Scott O’Connor as the bassist with The Eagles of Death Metal, but his tall stature, thick set hairy facial features and big hands (also his nickname) make him perfect casting for Talan, bringing a sympathetic side to this fearful brute of a man.
The savage critical reception to Bell’s previous film, The Devil Inside must have lit a fire under him as WER has seen the vitriol replaced with praise. And deserving it is too as Bell rarely puts a foot wrong here – perhaps a couple of moments stretch credibility (Gavin’s self administered cornea test comes to mind) – which bodes well for a potential sequel which the ending ambiguously hints at.
If WER can claim to be the starting point for a new breed of werewolf film then it can carry that honour with pride. Inventive, fresh, intelligent, gore filled and genuinely terrifying this definitely a film for horror fans to howl about!
English Language 5.1 Dolby Digital
English Language 2.0 Dolby Digital
English SDH Subtitles
The Making of WER
Stunt To Finish
Rating – ****
Man In Black