The box’ll get you expecting some weird french version of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, but I say it’s a 2000s Hammer movie. So you got a period piece with a mysterious beast eating people in a village, and the townspeople are trying to hunt it but they’re on the wrong track, and some colorful experts come to town to get the job done FOR REAL.
All that, but it’s the 2000s so they all do karate. Just like Charlie’s Angels, Mission: Impossible, X-Men, Superman, Charles In Charge, anybody that’s resurrected in the 2000s, they’re gonna do karate. Why? The Matrix. When? The 2000s. Where? A big screen near you. This includes not just americans, but also the French. The Musketeer did karate and Vidocq did detective style kung fu, and this movie introduces until-now-unknown traditions of French and Native American martial arts. Those scenes are kind of tossed in there, but it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. If you like the movie like I did, it will probaly be due to the classic story of the monster eating the villagers, and the dudes trying to track the monster. Not the karate.
Because it’s not all about punching and kicking. There’s a whole shitpile of mystery in there. Because nobody knows what the monster is, how it got there, how it chooses its victims. Most of the town thinks it’s just a big wolf. But the protagonists think it’s something else. And I mean obviously they’re right. Because why would the movie be following the one guy that’s totally wrong? Although that would actually be a pretty fuckin good idea for a movie. Get to work boys.
Apparently the story is inspired by actual events in french history. They shoulda said “BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS!” to promote it, like on that Richard Gere movie, THE MOTHMAN DIARIES. Or like that one killer bee movie on tv where they go, “This will BEE a true story.”
Anyway there really was a beast of some kind that killed over a hundred people, and nobody seemed to know what the fuck it was and the king sent out people to try to catch it. So I guess this movie is kind of like FROM HELL and other movies like that, that come up with a fanciful theory to explain a historical mystery. Only good. They also use that old routine where the hero is a modern man, looking like kind of a heretic because he uses his fancy rationality and new fangled scientific ideas instead of the old fangled superstitions that everybody else has. For example he tells them that he has studied wolves, and wolves don’t really attack people. That’s an old french wive’s tale. At the same time Mr. Rational French Dude has a deep understanding of Native American philosophy and this is part of why he doesn’t want to just kill all the wolves in the area in case they are the beast.
The director is Christophe Gans. Remember, I told you about this dude a while back. He’s been threatening to sneak across the interesting–filmatist border for a while now. His other best known picture was never released in the US, but it was the somewhat interesting CRYING FREEMAN, about a Badass potter who cries every time a secret yakuza cult uses mind control to force him to kill somebody. It was a John Woo ripoff, but a well done one, and filmed before that shit caught on. I’d sure watch it again before BROKEN ARROW.
The crybaby was played by Mark Dacascos who also teeters on the edge. One of the few times he made it theatrical was as a leapin leopard man in the late Mr. Frankenheimer’s embarassingly underrated ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. Usually Dacascos is straight to video but he shows above average action star skills. According to inernet movie database, he is Filipino, Spanish, Chinese, Irish and Japanese, was considered for the role of Bruce Lee in DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, only drinks water and tea, and will soon appear in another Gans movie called THE ADVENTURER and CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE with Jet Li and DMX. (Despite all the electronic nerd outrage when that one was announced, it looks like I was right that it wouldn’t really be much of a remake of ‘M.’ Dacascos kidnaps the daughter of a gangster during a diamond heist, so the gang helps the police with the search. Sounds more like a very special episode of Miami Vice than a remake of ‘M.’)
Anyway here he straps on a quill and a longhair wig to play Mani, the frenchie hero’s Native American sidekick. Like all Natives in modern Cinema, he communicates with nature and hates guns. Pretty standard, but Dacascos has a creepy, haunted look in his eyes and gives a strong physical performance that would probaly be overacting if he talked much at all. Not sure about his line readings – on the dubbed screener I got, he spoke in broken english in somebody else’s voice. But he steals the movie.
Alot of people said this one was too long, but with the possible exception of a love subplot that doesn’t amount to all that much, I think it all works. There’s a little bit of a witty dialogue but I like the overall humorlessness of Gans’ style. Very melodramatic, taking its characters and concepts very seriously, lots of slow motion and quiet and atmospheric noise. It gets real creepy and grim sometimes, especially when they find the body of one of the beast’s victims laying in a puddle in some grass somewhere, in broad daylight. And you just see the poor gal laying there, white and wide eyed, while they figure out the jaw size from the bite mark.
When the movie REALLY kicks in is when you catch up with the beast and get a couple glimpses of it. This is one of the “coolest” ideas for a monster I’ve seen in a while. When it’s running around it’s got that computery look, you don’t think its a real animal like in ALIENS or YODA. But the design is very clever and creepy and they do a good job of not giving you too good of a look at it so you’re not completely sure what exactly it is.
Also this is one of those movies where before you see it you think the title means one thing, and afterwards you realize it means something else. Which is always a plus in ol’ Vern’s book because it shows they put at least a little bit of thought into the thing.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.