MAY 10, 2011
The “problem” with watching a unique story (and a just plain ol’ good movie) is that I end up getting drawn in and forgetting to take notes, so forgive me if the review is a bit vague. Werewolf Hunter (actual title everywhere else: Romasanta) is the rare horror film where the claims that it’s based on a true story are not bullshit; while some liberties seem to have been taken (based on what little information I could find on the real case that was in English), the bulk of the film is very much based in fact.
Thus, don’t expect too much werewolf action, because a faithful retelling of a true story would mean a lack of humans turning into hairy beasts under a full moon (of course, if you think werewolves are real, then you should just stick to those Underworld documentaries or something). The brief glimpses of a wolf type creature are psychological in nature; our guy THINKS he’s turning into a werewolf, and thus is treated (and sentenced) as a man with a mental disorder. It’s almost kind of a shame too, because the transformation scene is actually pretty awesome, relying on practical work instead of CG and doing this interesting thing with changing the pigment of his skin that resembles watercolor paint spilling over his body (kind of hard to explain – just watch it, it’s a good movie!).
This didn’t bother me much. First of all, the on screen text tells you that it’s based on a true story of a serial killer right off the bat, so if you call “Bull shit!” and expect werewolf action, it’s a mixture of your fault and the fault of countless horror movies claiming to be based on true stories when they weren’t, which has resulted in a, ahem, “Boy Who Cried Wolf” type situation in the realm of horror films. Second, the typically B-movie level DVD cover (and re-title) from Lion’s Gate suggests one of their shitty, low-budget pickups by people who have no idea what they are doing (The Devil’s Hound, for example), so the fact that this was a real, almost classy kind of movie was a pleasant surprise.
Another surprise was that it was from some of the folks who made [Rec], namely director Paco Plaza and producer Julio Fernandez. I’ve now seen 5 films involving members of this core team and enjoyed them all, so I guess I can say I am officially a fan. This one predates all their others, and the script is attributed to others (plus Brian Yuzna was involved somehow), but it still fits in with their other films; taking overdone concepts and breathing new life into them with seemingly simple ways. In Rec it was just the way the film was shot, and with Christmas Tale, it was sort of taking the basic “Amblin movie” concept and adding in someone that would actually kill them. Here, it’s as simple as “no, he’s not really a werewolf”. Hey, it works.
The funny thing is, the only reason I put on the movie in the first place (I had passed it over a few times, due to seeing the cover and Julian Sands’ name – just don’t get the appeal of that guy, though he’s pretty good here) was to see Elsa Pataky, who I was quite smitten with during Fast Five (she’s the blond who eventually hooks up with Dom). Oddly, I had seen several films with her before (Giallo and Snakes on a Plane among them) but it wasn’t until Fast Five that I took notice. As it turns out, anyone watching the movie just for her will be satisfied (read: topless scene), and unlike in F5, she actually gets to really act here – she’s actually pretty talented. I’m guessing she never discovered her lover was a serial killer who could count members of her own family among his victims, only to discover that said killer truly loved her and tried to reform for her, so to pull off that sort of anguish couldn’t be easy. Good on you, Ms. Pataky. And since you’re married to the guy playing Thor, enjoy pretty much owning the box office right now. But back on point, any time you put on a movie just to ogle one of the actresses and end up really enjoying it on a story/technical level – that’s like forgetting that Monday’s a holiday until Sunday night; a wonderful unexpected surprise that’s all too rare. Usually in cases like that, I end up with shit like The Roommate, where the presence of Minka Kelly wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the rampant awfulness on display.
The various political elements that came into play in the movie’s 3rd act reminded me a bit of Brotherhood Of The Wolf, another “alt-werewolf” movie from a country that still takes horror movies seriously (p.s. the PG-13 Priest, in theaters this Friday!). Some of the editing here was a bit abrupt; the movie was only 89 minutes long and felt like it could be longer. In real life, the Queen actually pardoned the killer due to his mental illness, and then he died mysteriously in prison, intriguing story points that take up about 90 seconds in the movie. There’s also some business with letters that he was in possession of that was a bit hard to follow. Add in the fact that some of the stuff we are seeing didn’t really happen (i.e. the transformation), and you have a good movie that could have been great with a little more breathing room in the editing.
It’s a shame that the Gate had to pick up this movie and market it in such a misleading way. Someone like IFC or Magnet would have treated it with a bit more respect, and then in turn you wouldn’t be seeing so many “This movie SUCKKKKKKKKKS” type comments on its IMDb board, which has exactly one post in the past year. Hopefully, Mr. Plaza will find great success in the States with one of his future films, which in turn will inspire more folks to check out his earlier work, and not judge the movie on its cover or irritatingly generic new title.
What say you?