The Company of Wolves

The Company of Wolves

**1/2

Reviewed by: Ben Sillis

Freud is a load of bollocks. I'm sure he must have been the inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho; he was nothing but a phallus-mother-obsessed quack. But what an impact he's had. He opened the gates for poetic licence in psychology, and now anyone can run around pointing at an inanimate object, yelling "Guys, that looks like a penis!" People can use anything as a sexual metaphor. Hell, a middle-aged guy can't even buy an expensive sports car without being accused of trying to compensate for something.

The reason I say this is that pre-Freud I question whether anyone considered that werewolves had any sort of "sexual connotation", to quote the blurb on the DVD box of The Company Of Wolves, apart from freaks into bestiality. Seriously, I don't think hairy murderous canines exude sexual magnetism in any way. Director Neil Jordan, of The Crying Game and Interview With The Vampire fame, and Angela Carter, on whose story the film is based, seem to think otherwise and this little known reworking of Little Red Riding Hood renders the old story as a tale of adolescence, sexual innocence and awakening through dream - and nightmarish - imagery.

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To be fair, it is on the whole tastefully done; there is no bare flesh, or gross out man/beast appendage. As the young Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) slumbers, the borders of reality blur and her family is transported to the realm of the brothers Grimm, where village mobs hunt wolves with pitchforks and forests look as if a real gingerbread house could be lurking just around the corner. Her older sister has been killed by a pack of wolves, but her grandmother (Angela Lansbury) has little sympathy; she should have known not to stray from the path. As she frightens her grandchild with tales of women attacked by strange men under full moons, we see the child's sexual awakening (of sorts), as she eventually overcomes her fear of the beasts.

It's all rather conceited though and collapses under its own intellectual weight. Structurally, the film fails as a loosely connected series of vignettes interceded by Rosaleen walking through the forest for one reason or another. And while the visual imagery is often striking - eggs hatching to reveal statues of cherubs crying, perhaps mourning the onset of puberty, and the farcical depiction of the extravagances of the nobility at a wedding feast are particularly notable - the flat camera work lets it down, leaving it looking all too similar to Rob Reiner's later fairy tale spoof The Princess Bride.

Indeed, one reviewer has described the film as a "pretentious Hammer horror." Pretentious is certainly the word - while audiences at the time may have marvelled at the special effects, they have aged shockingly. In one scene a suspiciously hairy man peels off his skin and begins to mutate into a werewolf. This might have proved frightening if it didn't look like something out of The Evil Dead, or Peter Jackson's early gorefests, such as Bad Taste, or Braindead (all of which are comedies revelling in the pure trashy quality of blood and guts). Or like the Rodents of Unusual Size.

Lansbury, once the crazy commie mother in The Manchurian Candidate, is hilariously stuck in her ways as the determined old-wives-tale grandmother, the kind of woman who'd give you Worthers Original before telling you a bedtime story involving rape and murder. The rest of the cast is staggeringly bland, however; child actors in the movies are barely passable at the best of times, but when the adults are as wooden you have to worry. While Patterson is suitably innocent, as the Red Riding Hood character, Shane Johnstone is plain awful as the gurning, irritating farm boy, and it is a source of intense aggravation that he doesn't meet a bloody end.

Overall, it's an interesting attempt at updating old myths to make them fresh and relevant to contemporary audiences, but one that fails largely through a cast unable to carry convincingly the loaded script, full of metaphors, but sadly not sparkling writing.

Post-modern pants.

Reviewed on: 02 Nov 2005
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The underlying sexual connotations of dreams and fairy tales are explored by the director of The Crying Game.
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Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Angela Carter, Neil Jordan, based on the novel by Angela Carter

Starring: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Tusse Silberg, Micha Bergese, Brian Glover, Graham Crowden

Year: 1984

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/US

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