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‘Wolf Garden’ (review)

In the wake of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, there was a fad of taking established comic book characters and paring them down to more grounded, less fantastical forms – The CW‘s Arrow probably being the preeminent example.

Wolf Garden very much reminds of a similar “downsizing” of An American Werewolf in London as many of the familiar werewolf legends are in place here, but radically scaled back and delivered through a script that behaves more like a psychological thriller than a monster movie.

Wolf Garden is a British horror film, the debut feature from writer-director-producer Wayne David who also stars in the film.

The film centers on William (David) and jumps through time as it details various visits he and his wife Chantelle (Sian Altman) have made to their forest cottage.

In the scenes set in the present day William is wracked by grief to the point of hallucination.

The first act asks us to put together the pieces of what has turned an idyllic cabin in the woods into an open wound of trauma and regret for the young couple, and what the meaning of the monster locked in the shed that William periodically hears is.

This approach theoretically could bear fine results: everyone knows the intricacies of werewolf mythology and so, if you’re going to do a werewolf movie you need sort of a hook to differentiate yourself.

In practice though, it makes much of the first half of the film reliant on the worst sort of meaningless jump scares to keep the tension up, and the narrative itself is overly confusing and hampers the small cast’s ability to really sink their teeth (pun intended) into their parts.

The violent hallucinations intensify when a mysterious unnamed visitor (Masters) comes calling at the cottage. William doesn’t know who he is, but he seems to have information that only the couple ought to. This is familiar ground: Shutter Island, A Tale of Two Sisters, and the Silent Hill games all play with this combination of unreal surrealism, guilt-ridden protagonists and extremely specific bits of collective amnesia.

Now, to the film’s credit the ultimate reveal is not simply a retread of those stories, but it does make us feel like we could have been watching a more interesting film from the beginning with a more traditional story structure and suspense emphasized rather than building towards a big surprise. The script does a good job for the most part in maximizing atmosphere and minimizing anything that might cost money, and I can’t fault a super low budget production for getting talky. However, early scenes have a very cheap almost “made for TV” quality to the digital photography that is eventually overcome with some nice nighttime location work that has characters and specters moving through the shadows.

I would say in the overall, despite my problems with the film David acquits himself well as director and writer given the limitations baked into the budget and I would be interested in seeing what he’s capable of on a larger canvas. He’s got absolutely no chemistry with Sian Altman who is supposed to be playing the love of his life, but his work with Masters is solid and he conveys the kind of haggard Twilight Zone protagonist feeling of a man watching the clockwork of the world come undone before him with some style. Again, I think conceptually this is a very good film that’s merely undone by the limitations of what the filmmakers had to work with.

It’s not really a good casual horror watch because of the complicated plotting, and it isn’t a low budget miracle so it’s difficult to recommend the film on its own merits, but it is a piece with some interesting ideas and is currently available on both Digital and On Demand. It might be worth a look.

** out of *****

* * * * *
Produced by Lnzy Attenborough, Wayne David
Written and Directed by Wayne David
Starring Wayne David, Wayne, Sian Altman, Grant Masters

 

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