New Moon Rising


Wer - 2013
Written by William Brent Bell & Matthew Peterman
Directed by William Brent Bell

Wer is a completely fresh and au courant take on the werewolf legend, updating the concept in the most significant way that I have seen in a generation.  I don't expect it to redefine the sub-genre, but it certainly breathes fresh life into the idea.

What starts out as a mystery and legal thriller eventually turns into an all-out action/horror piece in the second half.  It's not exactly a found footage film, but it does rely heavily on footage from video cameras, police cameras, security cameras and such, combined with psuedo-documentary shooting (like, say, The Office, though never acknowledging the camera) for the meat of the storytelling.  The news reports and found footage cut into the film provide a sense of verisimilitude that sells the idea that this is a more realistic approach to the concept in our modern context.

The film opens with vacation video of an American family in France, out enjoying a campfire in a field by moonlight -- full moonlight.  Something stirs in the trees.  Bad things happen.  Very bad things.  Cut to news reports about the attack. and the capture of the suspect, then hospital footage of the surviving family member talking to the police.  Whoever it was, whatever it was, was hairy and had these teeth...

Taking the case on behalf of the defendant is a French-American lawyer with the civil rights commission, Kate Moore.  Kate very aggressively challenges the French police who are all too willing to treat their suspect as though he's already been convicted.  He is, after all, a giant of a man, extraordinarily hairy, socially isolated, lives conveniently close to the crime and... Eastern European.

Kate and her team (one of whom happens to be a former lover) press the authorities to come up with some physical evidence linking their client, Talan Gwynek to the crime as evidence carries much more weight than testimony in the French legal system, and so far the police have none.  DNA analyses repeatedly come back as tainted.  The deeper they look into Talan's story, the more convinced they become that he suffers from a genetic condition called porphyria; an actual disorder that can cause bone deformities, skin problems (including excess hair growth) and receding gums (which would make the teeth look abnormally large).  In other words, all the things that have made Talan an outcast, but also something that would make him too weak to commit the kind of carnage of which he is accused.

I'm going to pause here for a moment to discuss a situation in horror movies that try to inhabit our skeptical world while still being monster movies in the end.  Characters spend the first act or two doubting and denying that vampires or zombies or ghosts or werewolves could possibly exist, and on the face of it, we find this acceptable because that's what we imagine we'd do in that situation.  The snag in this situation is that we as viewers already know that there's going to be a vampire of zombie or ghost or werewolf, or we wouldn't have bothered to watch the movie in the first place.  As such, the amount of time spent in denial can become increasingly frustrating to us as viewers.

I bring this up because, while I could play along and keep up the sense of mystery, we all know that there's going to be a werewolf in this werewolf movie.  So, although Wer does an excellent job of treating Talan's various conditions as scientifically explainable and logically believable to the characters, someone's throat has got to get torn out sooner or later.

Someone's throat indeed; and once it does, the chase is on.  Wer makes extraordinarily clever use of its lower-budget CGI effects.  We don't get a transformation as complex as American Werewolf's or Professor Lupin's, but the subtler werewolf is befitting the film's more believable world's tone.  There's one specific moment where the narrative turns for both the characters as well as the viewers, and the simple effect used there creates a jarring sense that we (and by "we" I particularly mean "they," the characters) are dealing with an entirely new situation that outstrips expectations.

Meanwhile, throughout the story, two subplots have been building that will develop into Wer's final confrontation and its final twist.  The twist at the end isn't a jump-out-and-grab-you one, but it does change some of the film's meaning.  It's a rare treat that a horror film's final twist is actually supported by the narrative and not merely tacked on for "gotcha" value, so the film scores a full point for that alone (were this a scoring game).

I almost didn't watch Wer, because the whole defense attorney angle didn't really sound that appealing to me, but I found it to be a tremendously refreshing take on the mythos, and I'm encouraged to know that the old dog can still hunt.

No comments:

Post a Comment