Welcome to Freaks of Nature, a monthly column devoted to creature features of all shapes and sizes. This includes eco-horrors, kaijū, cryptids, and everything else in between. If a film features a beast who strikes terror in the heart of man, I’ll be there, bestiary in hand and ready to bask in all that monster glory.
Folklore about werewolves is ingrained in our culture. At this point, the stories practically write themselves. These primordial, fearsome beasts are accepted as nothing but supernatural relics. While it may seem like there’s no room for variation when it comes to lycanthropy, director William Brent Bell (Brahms: The Boy II) has a different perspective. His unorthodox point of view evokes believability. Rather than echoing what’s already been said and done, Bell shows us that the werewolf myth is very much like a crime. Meaning, there are always two sides to every story. With this month at Nightmare on Film Street being all about Cops ‘N’ Killers, we explore how legend and truth coincide in the 2013 movie Wer.
“Dead-level plausibility in combination with real-time storytelling, William Brent Bell’s [Wer] is utterly engrossing.”
Expatriate attorney Katherine Moore (A.J. Cook) comes to the defense of Talan Gwynek (Brian O’Connor), the accused murderer of an American family vacationing in France. Aided by both an investigator (Vik Sahay) and an animal expert (Simon Quarterman) who so happens to be her ex, Katherine tries to uncover the truth while being undermined every step of the way by the captain of the French police (Sebastian Roché). Talan‘s case appears cut and dry as strong evidence proves no normal man could commit such preternatural acts. As Katherine learns more about her client’s history, though, she realizes there’s nothing normal about Talan Gwynek.
Shot like a found-footage movie but not necessarily told like one, Wer has a naturalistic feel that contradicts its fantastical inspiration. The plot is dangerously credible because of the film’s engaging and earnest documentary style. Until confirmed otherwise, those on the receiving end of this procedural horror aren’t entirely sure what to think. Dead-level plausibility in combination with real-time storytelling, William Brent Bell’s movie is utterly engrossing.
Approaching Wer like an inverted detective story sets it apart from classic lycan horrors like The Howling and Silver Bullet. What links them, however, is the extraordinary amount of pain, both emotionally and physically, these afflicted characters endure. In spite of what he’s accused of, or what’s to come, Talan Gwynek is a pitiable man. Former Eagles of Death Metal bassist Brian O’Connor nails a manifold role. One minute he’s soft-spoken and disaffected, the next he’s flying into an uncontrollable rage. The film does an admirable job of positing Talan is more than just a man who turns into a monster. Instead, we’re shown how incredibly human that monster used to be.
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The film’s first half helps build and support a unique mythos. Amid all the legal tension, Katherine and her team — Vik Sahay’s Eric is exceptionally observant and blunt, and Simon Quarterman’s Gavin provides personal drama as he tries to reconnect with Katherine — pick apart the French police’s case against Talan. They go to great lengths to explain why their client is no killer. Rather, he’s the victim of a rare condition that gives him his scary appearance. There’s more to why Talan is being pinned as the murderer, but that subplot is overshadowed by another more important one. After so much tangible ambiguity, Wer finally shows its teeth.
“[….] does not shy away from showing all the splatter and violence that comes with depicting werewolves at their purest.”
Beginning in the late 2000s, romantic and docile werewolves were a short-lived trend in movies and television. Then, there was a small return to form. Filmmakers reminded us why these creatures are so deserving of their ill-famed reputation. Brent himself does not shy away from showing all the splatter and violence that comes with depicting werewolves at their purest. The movie’s remaining runtime is boosted by controlled bursts of uncanny feats and unbridled ferocity. Supplementing that is an undersized helping of body horror tied to the psychology of becoming a werewolf.
In the same vein as Josh Trank’s Chronicle, Wer demonstrates what happens when unchecked power gets out of control. The film steps into anti-superhero territory as soon as a supernatural force opposes authority. The overarching fight for power is a physical one between Talan and anyone who stands in his way. Meanwhile, there is the symbolic war that gets lost among the action. A government responsible for this entire mess now finally has to answer for its corruption.
Having a protagonist like Katherine Moore certainly helps the movie, too. A.J.’s Cook’s candid performance as the altruistic and regretfully misguided lawyer is felt every step of the way. Katherine represents the cautiously optimistic crowd at home. She’s not so naïve that she think he’s harmless, but she believes Talan is owed the same respect as anyone else. It’s her resolve to give him a fair investigation, something that’s clearly not the goal of the French police, that makes Katherine such an admirable character. Like in real life, though, things don’t work out as we had hoped. That compassion Katherine expressed time and time again is essentially all for nothing. Even so, it’s Katherine‘s failing all the while trying to do the right thing that makes her so relatable.
There is no right or wrong way to tell a story about werewolves. It’s a broad topic ripe with opportunity. As with so many things in entertainment, though, creators latch on to one good idea and use that as the defining template. The cycle continues until someone eventually intervenes with a fresh proposal. Wer is a prime example of how to take something that’s been done to death and make it your own. William Brent Bell finds two very different subjects and combines them into an offbeat yet singular movie. The end result is a worthy attempt at breathing new life into a subgenre that doesn’t quite fit in with the direction of today’s horror.
“Wer is a prime example of how to take something that’s been done to death and make it your own. “
Share your thoughts on Wer and let us know what your favourite werewolf movies with the Nightmare on Film Street community on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group. And if you’re looking for more creature-feature recommendations to dive deep on during your self-isolation stream-a-thon, feast your eyes on more Freaks of Nature HERE.