Papa Was a Howlin' Stone


Werewolf: The Beast Among Us - 2012
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Directed by Louis Morneau

I hadn't heard of this one at all until the other day when I wrote about In the Company of Wolves and found that Stephen Rea had three werewolf movies to his credit.  Having seen the other two (Underworld: Awakening being the other) I decided to give it a shot.  The prospect of paranoia within the community sounded vaguely intriguing.

It wasn't that intriguing.

The Beast Among Us is an action movie first, and a fairly generic one at that.  The horror is primarily relegated to a bit of gratuitous gore.  It packs very little punch because it doesn't give us anything to care about.

Somewhere in the poorly defined Europe of the poorly defined past, a plague of poorly defined werewolves has stricken the countryside.  A team of werewolf hunters rides into town to deal with the menace.  But this isn't your run-of-the-mill werewolf (within this movie's mill-house, anyway).  This one turns on the waxing and waning nights of the full moon as well; rather than simply the fully full moon.  Because gravity, evidently -- and just you hush your mouth about the moon having the same gravity every night no matter which direction it's reflecting.  All you need to worry about is that these kinds of werewolves are deadlier, and potentially able to transform at will, possibly because they were born, not made.  The werewolf lore gets pretty cluttered except for in the places where it's not explained at all.

There's plenty of mistrust to go around, but very little of it plays into the kind of tense cat-and-mouse story mechanics that you wish it would.  In fact, there just really aren't many reasons to care about anything that happens because the characters are generally dull and unpleasant, and indeed, there turn out to be more bad guys than good guys.  The twists are supposed to be engaging, but they're so telegraphed by secretive behavior that they never really matter.

Oh, the film tries to define the characters, but does so through making them types.  This most strongly stands out with the hunters who are cartoonishly defined the way that "colorful" teams of mercenaries are in b-movies; through their appearance and/or their weapons.  Team leader is a Cowboy.  His lieutenant is the Casanova.  There's the Battle-Scarred Brute with the eye patch and the 2-legged horse, and his yeah-yeah-you-tell-'em-boss Toady.  And there's the Sassy Chick with the Big Guns (or an over-sized crossbow anyway).  Among the townspeople, the overworked doctor is the Stern Master to the Earnest Scholar, son of the Seen-It-All Barmaid and boyfriend of the Pretty Rich Girl.

The werewolf effects show about the same level of imagination, delivering mediocre CGI so uninspired and unexamined that the creature's downy hair makes it look cuddly.  The transformation constitutes little more than a morphing effect, which simply isn't interesting in the slightest.  The beast is most menacing when you don't see it at all.  Like the film as a whole, there's potential there, but the execution is tepid.

It's not even inspiring enough to really bag on it.  Six months from now, I'll probably stumble across it again on IMDb and think it sounds interesting, only to remember that I've seen it and it wasn't.

Wolf Children - 2012
Written by Mamoru Hosada & Satoko Okudera
Directed by Mamoru Hosada

For as little as The Best Among Us gave me to care about as a viewer, the anime film Wolf Children did the opposite.  This movie is ALL ABOUT caring, and its pacing and characterizations draw in the viewer in subtle and powerful ways.  Not a horror movie in the slightest, it is nevertheless about wolves who are people too, or vice versa.  The subject of full moons and silver bullets is addressed early on, only so it can be dismissed as mythology and the things that really matter can be explored.

Wolf Children is roughly three stories in one, and action is central to none of them.  It sets a rather leisurely pace, relying on its establishment of humanity within its characters to compel interest in what might happen next, or simply, what we might learn next.

Timid yet joyously spirited college student Hana notices a new student in class one day, and develops an instant infatuation with him.  As it turns out, he's not officially a student at all, but a humble yet decidedly dreamy mover.  Soon, they're a couple, due largely to her efforts.  His initially aloof behavior is rooted in a desire to protect himself, for you see, he is a wolf.  Rather than scaring Hana away, she accepts him as he is.  He is, as far as he knows, the last wolf left in Japan.  They're not an aggressive species, but often forced into isolation simply out of societal fears. Within two years, they've had two babies with wolfy dispositions of their own.  With all those mouths to feed, he goes out hunting one night... and doesn't return.  Between school, work and two babies who are sometimes wolves, Hana can't keep up, and decides a fresh start out in the country is called for.

The next part of the film is primarily concerned with the the struggles of single-motherhood, especially when your children are apt to turn into canines in the blink of an eye.  Hana has to learn how to farm to keep her family fed, and the help she's given is delivered in the most begrudging way possible by a surly old neighbor.  Once harvest comes and she hasn't given up, she's finally accepted into the community.  Her daughter, Yuki is a rambunctious pup, and her son Ame is a sickly little thing.  They both require their own kind of attention, on top of the needs of farm life.

The last major arc in the story concerns the children's lives as students.  Hana has learned to manage things at home a little better and takes a part time job with a conservationist group.  Yuki starts school after convincing her mother that she can control her changes, chanting "I'm going to be a little girl all the way home" to calm herself.  She thrives on the social contact.  Ame, when it's his turn for school, doesn't, and finds himself troubled by the role of wolves in the stories that they read.  In time, their relationships outside the home; Yuki with a sensitive new boy in class and Ame with his "sensei," the fox that roams the mountain behind their home, will open up new and very different paths for them and their future lives.

Wolf Children is similar in tone to some of Studio Ghibli's quieter films like Whisper of the Heart or Only Yesterday.  There were a number of moments that specifically evoked Ghibli movie for me.  It takes a very slice-of-life approach to its fantasy-based premise, and ultimately uses that premise as a vehicle for telling an allegorical tale about aspects of the human condition; single parenthood and the life choices of children coming into their own chief among them.  I don't know how intentional it was, 'cause Japan, but there would seem to be a pretty powerful story here about the struggles of raising mixed-race children in a world that hasn't come to terms with the concept as much as it thinks it has.

If I had to complain (and it's the internet, so, you know, there's a law that I must), it would be that the wolfish side of the kids and their father is pretty mild.  It's not until Ame's story arc emerges that being wolf really takes on much gravity of its own.  I also have some reservations about the wolves keeping their human hair, and this strays uncomfortably close to the world of "furries."  I feel uneasy even typing the word.  Google with caution if you're curious about the movie.  That territory is arguably breached when Hana and her wolfy young swain "mate" while he's in transitional form.  I respect that it's symbolic of her acceptance and his ability to be "naked" to her in a uniquely vulnerable way, but damn you internet for tainting this moment!  Okay, obligation fulfilled; petty complaints registered, much of it not the film's fault.

Wolf Children is simply beautiful in every possible way.  The art is exceptional.  The music affecting.  It's not that it's slow-paced as much as it leaves the spaces in between the beats, and it's in those spaces that the characters have room to grow.  It's the growth of those characters that engages us and reveals the tenderness of their humanity, which is the greatest beauty of all.  It's not about things happening, it's about the thing they make happen; the people they are over time and the choices they make, most often as expressions of love deeply felt.

Yeah I bawled.  I bawled at the moon.

That wraps it up for Werewolf Week.  I have to admit that I enjoyed it more, overall, than Anthoholic.  Starting tomorrow, we'll be back to a more arbitrary selection process leading us on through Halloween.  BE THERE.

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