Eight For Silver

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Eight For Silver
"An intelligent reworking of the werewolf myth that marries the sort of old-school atmospherics of classic Hammer with some impressive special effects and modern creature work." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

When a soldier is rushed to a Somme field hospital in the prologue of Sean Ellis' engaging period horror, the doctor doesn't just dig out the enemy bullets, he also finds a larger one, made of silver - and we all know what those are used for. It's a clever way to draw us in to this intelligent reworking of the werewolf myth that marries the sort of old-school atmospherics of classic Hammer with some impressive special effects and modern creature work.

After that death on the battlefield - which though only seen briefly is, like every inch of this film, thoughtfully crafted, and features striking mustard gas imagery - the bullet is returned to the family and we're soon taking a flashback trip to the dead man, Edward's, childhood in the rural France of the late-1800s. He lives in a lord of the manor set-up with his father Seamus (Alistair Petrie), mother Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) and sister Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) and, in good old-fashioned style, problems are about to stem from the Romany encampment that Seamus wants off his land.

Before you can say, "The way you walk is thorny through no fault of your own", the landowner has created a bloodbath, which again in a striking use of imagery, involves hoisting one of the travellers into position as a human scarecrow while another - cursing as she goes - is buried alive while clutching a box containing a portentous set of silver teeth, covered in runes. While Ellis is drawing on classic ideas here, the winning element is how authentic everything looks - from limb lopping to those silver canines - so there's nothing to cheapen or reduce the atmosphere.

The tradition of horror film Romany curses is dutifully upheld as, first, the children of the village begin to share the same scarecrow-haunted nightmare and, if there's a criticism to make, the film could use fewer jump scares, which feel like easy pickings compared to the richer material Ellis has crafted. Then come the disappearances, including Edward's, which sparks the arrival of John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), a pathologist who has lost his own family and who knows a thing or two about the beast. As the house is boarded up, mist hangs on the ground outside and candlelight flickers within - caught beautifully by Ellis, who also takes on cinematographer duties - as traditional questions about men and beasts that lurk within them and who is the hunter and who the hunted are satisfyingly rejuvenated.

Ellis crafts a gripping tale, drawing on biblical and mythical elements to create something that is new and familiar simultaneously. If the creature itself is, on the one hand, not what you probably expect from a werewolf, it still carries primal echoes of all those animals you were told about as children, lingering in forests and ready to eat you up.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2021
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In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal but discovers a much deeper, sinister force that has both the manor and the townspeople in its grip.

Director: Sean Ellis

Writer: Sean Ellis

Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Amelia Crouch, Roxane Duran, Aine Rose Daly

Year: 2021

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Sundance 2021

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