There really aren’t all that many good werewolf movies. You’ve got a couple classics like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, and some latter-day greats like Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps. Aside from those, pickins are pretty slim. There’s just not a ton of new ways to come at the lore, if I’m honest. That’s why I found Sean Ellis’ new film Eight for Silver, which premiered Saturday night as part of the Sundance Film Festival, so enjoyable. It came at the lore from a familiar yet different avenue, and brought it back to its gloomy late-Victorian-era roots.
Eight for Silver is a nice looking movie, a perfectly grim widescreen film with misty moors and dim manor houses. But even though it has an austere aesthetic, it still finds plenty of room for gruesome creature effects, and even some grotty body horror. The plot is incredibly straightforward but ticks a lot of the right classic monster movie boxes to make fans of Hammer Horror mostly happy. Sure some of it doesn’t make much sense, but it entertains throughout.
The story proper takes place in the late 1800s on a manor in the north of England. The landowner, Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie), and the other top men of the town have a problem. A caravan of Romani people have settled on the land, claiming it to be their ancestral birthright. When they refuse to leave, the nobles hire mercenaries to round up and murder them. They aim to “make an example of them,” though there’s nobody else around except the people who work on the land already. At any rate, this violent act brings a curse upon the families who stole the land. This curse begins as nightmares and ends up as beasts slaughtering the village.
We’ve seen all this before; it’s some stuff right out of the original The Wolf Man movie from 1941. The children of the town have horrible dreams that draw them to the mass burial site. There they dig up a set of silver teeth; one boy puts in the dentures (gross) and bites Laurent’s young son who then becomes the first of the cursed beasts in the town.
Whoever shall save them? Well, luckily, a pathologist named John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), with his own tragic backstory, has tracked the Romani people to this location. McBride may be the only one who can break the curse before too many of the innocent people suffer. It must be said, McBride doesn’t do the best job of staving off carnage.
So, there’s your set-up. Van Helsing-type guy who knows what’s up comes to town to help clear up these not-quite wolves. He’s a pretty compelling hero, and has what ought to probably be a romance with Laurent’s put-upon wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) but it never quite goes there. People die, more people become monsters, bish-bash-bosh, there’s your werewolf movie.
What Ellis does with the creatures is part of what elevates Eight for Silver beyond the typical. These aren’t lupine, furry things that howl at the moon. He implies that people in the 1800s probably have no other way to contextualize such beasts. The legend of a wolf-man fills in those gaps. But what actually happens here is that the curse sort of engulfs the victim, like vines, and the result is a large quadrupedal thing with gnashing teeth. The people are sort of trapped inside, which is a pretty cool twist on the subject.
In the audience Q&A portion of the premiere screening, Ellis said he wanted the curse to be more like an addiction the victim can’t escape. While I never really got that sense from the visuals of the story, it is a cool idea; the poor soul cannot escape the grasping clutches of the bloodlust. It also helps, I think, that we never get a top-to-bottom “hero” shot of the creature. It’s hard to get a sense of it, which adds to the mystery and uncanniness. If we can’t make sense of it, how can the Victorian folks in the movie who don’t know what movies are?
So, that’s kind of it. Eight for Silver is definitely not in the reinvention of classic folklore the way recent movies like The VVitch or The Ritual or something like that. I also didn’t find it particularly scary, so no need to hide behind fingers here. But what we get is a very lush, classic looking Gothic monster movie with a cool take on a tired old monster.
3.5 out of 5