The werewolf wears many suits of fur in horror cinema. It can symbolize the animalistic nature of mankind, primal rage, destructive hedonism, even puberty. They vary in morality as well: from neutral, to evil, to an almost protector figure like a “lupus dei”. A rarer route, one which director Sean Ellis takes in their film Eight for Silver posits the werewolf as an avenging plague set upon those who destroy lives in the service of greed.
The greedy in this case are the townspeople living under wealthy landlord Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie). They slaughter a camp of Roma not only because they have refused to give up their land rights, Seamus simply decides he wants it, but also because they display the same incredible racism that was and still is levied against the Roma. However, the matriarch of this group senses this will come to pass. She has all of their silver smelted into the silver jaws of a beast, prays over it, and invokes a curse on all those who would dare possess it.
The townsmen and Seamus react violently, murdering everyone they can and burning their camp to the ground, raping the women who survive, burying the matriarch alive with her steel jaws in hand, and mutilating and lynching her son in front of her. Soon after, the townspeople’s children begin having horrific nightmares about the land and the strange silver teeth. Against their parents’ wishes, they follow the markers in their dreams, unearthing the teeth, and unleashing a bloody retribution upon the village that threatens to slaughter them. Completely helpless, a strange man (Boyd Holbrook) who seems to know more about this plague than he lets on arrives in their town.
The high point of this film, by far, is the creativity with which the werewolf is portrayed. The curse manifests as a literal blood curse. The hexed silver seeps into the blood, and transmits to others through any violent contact with the afflicted’s teeth or claws. Transformation is swift, almost using the rules of zombie cinema where mortality of wounds directly translates into speed of infection. But there is no American Werewolf in London bone shifting or Ginger Snaps monstrous dog-like puberty here. Indeed, the werewolves of Eight for Silver are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Those infected are more like the host to an infection that takes a canid form. The parasitic canine body entangles them in vine-like structures that burst through their skin and entomb their bodies inside the belly of the beast itself. Even when the shell dies, the hosts remain, encased in a fetid, translucent uterus from which the beast will grow anew unless destroyed with the selfsame silver that created them in the first place. It’s genuinely brilliant. And in a genre as comparatively stagnant as the werewolf genre, it will hopefully be the burst of creativity needed to bring some new blood into a well-loved, and long-trodden creature.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t really hold up to the impeccable creature design at play here. The acting is more or less average, and the Roma are still uncomfortably stereotypical at times even as the film seeks to humanize them. The various villagers are so similar in mannerism, appearance, and tone that they all blend together. Beyond knowing who they are visually, based on who was infected at the time or not, I’m hard pressed to tell you any of their names unless they’re said multiple times. Which (un)fortunately, due to the semi-repetitive dialogue, they are. The pacing is also strained. It’s the elongated attempt at making the audience empathize with the village children that gets in the way of inciting the action. Also the awkward moralizing monologues takes time away from the creatures and their lore, when those two components should always be the focus of any monster movie, but particularly one that’s trying to do something new.
If you want a good popcorny werewolf film for a dark night, or just want to see something different finally be done with this kind of monster, Eight for Silver will be right up your alley. Temper your expectations for the film as a whole, but absolutely believe the hype in the visuals.
Images courtesy of Sundance Institute