Killtoberfest rolled onward last Friday with #8, the third in a series of not-really-horror-films. In my defense, I was deceived by an evil leprechaun, and also everybody who said Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves was about werewolves and therefore a horror film.
Instead, it is about werewolves and therefore a fairy tale.
It’s not a terrible film, but it’s only good fitfully. Somehow that’s more frustrating than something like Don’t Go In the House, which is a bad movie that stumbles briefly into greatness. The Company of Wolves clearly knows better, but it’s more interested in faffing about than in telling a coherent story.
Outside of the frame story, which places the entire film in the context of the dream of a young girl in modern day, The Company of Wolves consists of a series of vignettes repetitively pointing out the themes and setting up the movie’s main section, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. The retelling is actually really good, featuring slam-bang wolf effects and infused with darkness, tension and sensuality. But by the time it’s arrived, the film has exhausted all possible patience with endless stories from Grannie (a completely unnecessary Angela Lansbury) essentially repeating the lesson that all men are wolves at heart.
Visually the film is luscious, shot on a large soundstage constructed to look like an 18th century forest and then filled with light, shadow, and fog. It’s Neil Jordan, so it’s well directed; it’s also the most Irish thing I’ve ever goddamn seen that didn’t actually involve alcohol. As usual, he indulges himself for flights of fancy and visual tricks at every turn, but unlike, say, In Dreams, or Interview With The Vampire (whose vampire makeup is very similar to the werewolf-in-human-form makeup here) the underlying story isn’t strong enough to hold them all, so that striking images (such as the scene where “Red” climbs a tree and finds a bird’s nest whose eggs hatch to reveal tiny statues) fail to gain traction or support one another.
All in all it’s a valiant effort to unpack some of the thematic underpinnings of the classic story, including ideas about adolescence, gender dynamics, and the ways in which women lose or claim the power of their nascent sexuality. The end, which actually retells the tale of the girl in red and her grandmother’s house, would make a great short film on its own; but the path to get there is too winding for my taste.