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  Werewolf A Four Legged FiendBuy this film here.
Year: 2018
Director: Adrian Panek
Stars: Kamil Polnisiak, Nicolas Przygoda, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka, Werner Daehn, Jakub Syska, Helena Mazur, Krzysztof Durski, Maksymilian Balcerowski, Julia Slusarczyk, Matylda Ignasiak, Oleksandr Shcherbyna, Eugeniusz Malinowski, Radoslaw Chrzescianski
Genre: Horror, War, Adventure
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1945, and the Second World War is drawing to a close after years of carnage, but the terror is not over yet. At this soon-to-be liberated concentration camp, the Nazi guards have all but given up hope of succeeding, yet are having their murderously cruel fun with the remaining prisoners nonetheless. As the camp is closing, and reluctant to let them go, the Germans are ordering them to perform various tasks and if they refuse, they die at the jaws of the attack dogs that are completely under the Nazis' command. In one of the buildings, a young group of inmates are horrified at the thought they may be murdered next, but one of them has an idea of how to amuse their captors...

And in so doing (going through a pointless exercise routine) they manage to escape either being ripped apart or a dying under hail of bullets. The story picks up once they have been freed, but with the danger far from over as they are taken by an older guardian to a mansion house in the forests, where they find food is in short supply, but as long as they can make it to the point they will be rescued properly, they should be fine. Ah, but they have reckoned without those attack dogs, which are now roaming free throughout the woods and eventually turn the film into a siege yarn in the Night of the Living Dead mould, only with ravening hounds instead of flesh-eating zombies.

The trouble with that would seem to be overfamiliarity, as there was a sense we had been here before - even to the horror subgenre of killer dog flicks, either singular or in a pack. What made this different was the World War II context, which proposed this as an allegory writer and director Adrian Panek was keen to arrange, where the upheaval of the conflict is set against the hope that civilisation can win out and put savagery in its place. Whether you went along with his methods was another matter, as there was a definite fable-like quality to what we were seeing which tended to act as a get out clause for anything we watched that came across as too farfetched or unrealistic.

Therefore, while these children have effectively escaped from a concentration camp, none of them are emaciated in a way that we have seen from the harrowing footage taken at the time of the liberations. Mind you, short of actively starving his young cast, it is difficult to know what Panek could have done about that, so while they look relatively healthy, none of them are exactly overweight. With that in mind, it is best to lean on that allegorical aspect when documentary authenticity was not obviously in the film's remit, and on that level, as a horror thriller designed to prompt the audience to consider the grimmer elements that seem to come with the societies we take for granted, Werewolf could be judged a qualified success. What it did not have, however, were werewolves.

There was a line, almost thrown away, where one of the youngest children wonders if the dreaded SS soldiers had become their murderous dogs, as if the insidiousness of Nazism could be brought to the basest, most bloodthirsty realisation of its ideology in the form of dumb animals bred for their viciousness, but there was no question the animals keeping the kids incarcerated were actual beasts, nothing supernatural or folkloric. Panek saw the youngsters, once they are completely isolated, as a potential for corruption or rising above their elders' horrendous acts, with one teen (Kamil Polnisiak) managing to order the hounds to an extent, suggesting he could be a Nazi in training, but then turning that around as the humanity in all the fugitives becomes their rescue when they can use that potential for civilising influence to save themselves. The force for order and morality is in all of us, and the Nazis chose to ignore that - but future generations do not need to, is what this appears to be optimistic about.

[Werewolf is released on Blu-ray by Eureka's Montage label, and features a limited edition collector's booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Dr. Anton Bitel.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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