Director Sean Ellis has had a great history with the Sundance Film Festival, and this year is no different. His werewolf chiller, Eight for Silver, premiered at this year’s mostly virtual affair and if you’re a horror fan, it’s something you don’t want to miss once it goes mainstream. But, take note, this isn’t your typical werewolf film, it takes great liberties from the 1941 original and although recognizable, still manages to be unique enough to please those who have grown tired of the concept.
In 1800s Europe, a band of Romani travelers, or gypsies as they call them in the film, are violently killed by landowner Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) and his charge after refusing to leave the land they claim is inherently theirs. Just before one of the elderly female trespassers is killed, she curses the land forever. To thwart off any more unwanted intruders Laurent has his men mutilate another Romani and erect his body onto a cross and hang him like a scarecrow.
From there, the film distances itself from any cinematic lore tied to the original. This isn’t a remake, but people are familiar with the canon.
Ellis has done what some people would call sacrilege to the spirit of the Universal classic. He has given it new life, new rules, in much the same way Leigh Whanell did for The Invisible Man. Eight for Silver might take place over 200 years ago but the metaphors are modern. The director has said the way the monster in this film transforms its victims is a bit like the power of social media wherein they are literally engulfed, becoming its prisoner.
The eerie atmosphere of the wooded French landscape adds to the creepiness. Wide shots of fog billowing out from the tree line and over the hillside and through the vineyards are as much a character as the cast. The manor is bold and jarring, large in scope, and adds a gothic personality to the landscape.
The creatures in this film are glorious. The special effects team outdid themselves both in the practical and digital departments. The main beast is teased at first but when he reveals himself, eagle-eyed viewers will find nary a complaint. He is menacing and vicious which means gore lovers are also in for a treat. Thank goodness he and his spawn make several appearances because the design is truly incredible.
One thing the movie lacks, unlike Invisible Man, is a bit of character depth. Yes, Laurent is a tyrant, Yes his wife is woeful over her missing son, and yes the stranger, John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), hired to kill the beast is smart and foreboding. But the human drama, despite the top-notch acting, suffers in lieu of brilliant action scenes. In fact, near the end, what should be a tearful moment turns into a spectacularly bloody homage to the traffic scene in An American Werewolf in London.
Bold in the decision to offset itself from the source material, combined with its use of magnificent special effects, Eight for Silver is a beautiful piece of storytelling. It may only be tied to the original in spirit, but it has plenty of it. This is a werewolf movie for the ages.