Monday, September 24, 2018

Fantastic Fest ’18: Werewolf

After the horror came a coda of terror for these painfully young survivors. They were liberated from a concentration camp by the Russians, only to be abandoned in a remote improvised orphanage. Unfortunately, they are still threatened by demons, both external and internal, in Adrian Panek’s Werewolf (trailer here), which had its international premiere at the 2018 Fantastic Fest.

Nobody turns feral when the full moon rises in this film. These werewolves are metaphorical, referring to the beasts we keep at bay inside. However, there really is a pack of vicious dogs. They are sort of like the canines in White God, but less allegorical and really in no way supernatural.

Ranging from five-ish to the twenty-year-old Hanka, the children have been deposited in a crumbling grand manor house, under the supervision of the bereaved Jadwiga. Alas, their sardonic protector will not last long, leaving them to face the pack of snarling dogs that surrounds their new home completely on their own. The children will be prisoners within the house, forgotten by the not-so compassionate Russians. With food and water running short, they will have to start improvising. Unfortunately, there is also dissension within, stemming from Janek and Wladek’s romantic interest in Hanka and resentment over the former’s German nationality.

This is a film that could have gone perilously wrong in so many ways, but Panek always keeps it on the right side and totally on solid ground. We see the various survival strategies that have been ingrained into the children, but even when Janek is at his worst, he still very clearly remains a traumatized little boy, whom we have sympathy for.

Sonia Mietielica, Nicolas Przgoda, and Kamil Polnisiak are all quite remarkable as Hanka, Janek, and Wladek, respectively. They each portray deeply wounded characters, in mature and challenging ways, but they also handle the business of being stuck in a Cujo-like situation quite convincingly.

Technically, Werewolf is also quite an assured, well-put-together package. Cinematographer Dominik Danilczyk gives it the look of an ominous fable, while the design team (production designer Anna Wunderlich, art director Marcin Aziukiewicz) really make the mansion-turned-orphanage look like a shabby monument to faded days of glory. In many ways, it is a heartbreaking film, but it also allows for the possibility of hope—and maybe even forgiveness. Very highly recommended, Werewolf screens again Wednesday (9/26), as part of this year’s Fantastic Fest.