The benefit of horror as a means of story-telling is that it allows for otherwise impenetrable and unapproachable topics. By its very nature a genre that is designed to shock, terrify and create a sense of deep discomfort in its audience. The obvious comparison which comes to mind when watching Werewolf is a text that is not typically considered to be “horror” – William Goldings Lord of the Flies. They are both stories which centre on children having undergone a significant trauma, find themselves in a world where adults are absent and face both real and psychological threats.
Werewolf begins with the end of World War II and has an opening that firmly presents the horror as being both real and historical. It is an opening which is in stark contrast to the remainder of the film – being both heavier in dialogue and adult presence than the remaining 70 or so minutes. Following the liberation of the camp, a group of children finds themselves sheltering in a remote and dilapidated villa – with a hostess who by her nature of being an adult, we quickly come to understand will not be present for long.
The remainder of the film is a blend of literal survival horror, home invasion and haunted house scares which mix and merge into an atmosphere where you feel the desperation of the central characters and feel as though none of them may survive. The house in which they take shelter is seemingly remote and located next to a dense forest and whilst there is nothing overtly supernatural about Werewolf – it is in fact, shockingly natural and devastating simplistic in its most striking moments – the connotations of an empty house, full of memories and haunted by the ghosts of what it has witnessed in the previous decade leading up to the time when film takes place.
The film focuses less on plot and more on the abnormality of the normal. The children are hypnotised by the sight of a can of dog food being opened and dance in the rain with their mouths open – overwhelmed with joy at the feeling of water in the mouths and in their hair.
Another key touchstone is Robert Eggers 2016 breakout hit The Witch – a film that draws on the inherent fear of the wood as a place where children are unsafe. The character of Hanka in Werewolf is, much like Thomasin in Egger’s film, a girl who takes on a far greater maternal role than she would have done under “normal” circumstances.
Hanka is the closest the film comes to having a protagonist and whilst there is no backstory given to any character, it is Hanka in whom we invest the deepest and who has what comes closest to giving the film a sense of hope and of colour. There is a key scene in which she isolates herself; puts on a red dress and lipstick and lies down to rest. Her desperation to find something approaching normality in such abnormal circumstances comes with an emotional gut-punch that I wasn’t expecting.
An unusual, genre-bending film, Werewolf is still fresh in my mind several days after watching it and is a welcome reminder of the ability of genre film-making as a means by which a broader and deeper story can be told.
Dir: Adrian Panek
Scr: Adrian Panek
Cast: Kamil Polnisiak, Nicolas Przygoda, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka
Prd: Magdalena Kaminska
DOP: Dominik Danilczyk
Run time: 88 minutes
Werewolf is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD.