A winning concept and a bunch of strikingly shot sequences were not enough to turn “Werewolf” into a worthwhile effort. Rather than that, Adrian Panek offers a dragged-out cover up for a story that blatantly lacks substance.
A group of kids, imprisoned in a concentration camp, is freed and settled in a spacious mansion, hidden somewhere deep in the woods. The children are starving, but the worst is about to come when a pack of ravenous hounds surround the house. In order to make it out alive, the group needs to stick together at all costs.
Before “Werewolf” moves to a hermetic, forgotten building, cramped between facades of tall trees, Adrian Panek, the director of “Werewolf”, begins on a high note. On the brink of war, the Nazi officers leave no stone unturned, leaving a bloody trail of death behind. Bullets go through hearts and heads, people beg for mercy, shots are fired. While scavenging the concentration camp, the German officers discover a barricaded room with trembling children inside. But instead of a bloodbath, comes a surprise. The kids survive, thanks to the example set by one glasses-wearing kid.
This boy’s name is Władek and him, along with another boy called Hanys (a way to address people from Southern Poland) and a teenage girl Hanka, form the spine of “Werewolf”.
With the whole plot dictated by the ball that bounces inside this triangle, Władek, Hanys and Hanka’s actions define the rules in the game of survival – other kids are simply followers. Being leaders doesn’t, however, cross out fear, developed and nurtured in the camp.
Panek makes that one thing crystal clear – even despite the danger lying in wait outside, the true fear is not induced by these killer dogs. Instead, it’s the trauma that shaped the kids as emotionally damaged, unable to trust anyone and, eventually left socially handicapped. Being alone, they are the human reflections of the dogs that haunt them. They are reduced to the basic needs, but deep inside are in need for someone to show them a bit of love.
If Adrian Panek stayed within the drama area, mostly in execution and psychology of his characters, “Werewolf” would have been a blast. An uncompromising look at the war trauma, imbued with a mist of horror. This, unfortunately, isn’t the case.
The biggest issue is that Panek’s not a storyteller you wish to listen to. He drags out a fair share of the film, often loses pacing and makes an awfully dreadful pauses, that he tends to fill with all-style-no-substance slow motions or nobody-needs-them, recurring scenes of children in their every day struggles. As a director, he clearly doesn’t know how to make these characters fit with the image and structure of the scenes. The scarcely used dialogues are of little help too.
When this becomes too tiring even for Panek, there’s a safe return to the horror haven. An easier way to engage the viewers works quite well. The scary scenes are thoughtful, made with patience and style. There is time to let the camera mysteriously dive into the house, or falter faintly in the woods.
Albeit drama and horror often blossom together, “Werewolf” proves otherwise. The nameless characters aren’t particularly best fits for a horror movie (in the end, you don’t even know their names, and therefore develop little feelings for them), while the story offers little to make one care more than the cheap sketch made right in the beginning.
Stylistically, “Werewolf” has much to offer. It’s very meticulously designed and shot, with every bit of thought put into its visual integrity. Flipping the coin brings an underdeveloped plot, easily reducible to a short feature. But considering Polish cinema and its ambiguous view on horror, “Werewolf” is still an achievement. Even so, there’s a weak pulse of a film far more disturbing, powerful and unforgettable.
Dir. Adrian Panek
Hate Grade: 5/10