Beware the wolf, but not like before. There aren’t full moons or sexy werewolves this time around. Instead, Eight For Silver delivers a refreshingly horrifying take on werewolf lore and period piece horror. Sean Ellis’ new film is bloody, visceral, and a hell of a good time.
In the late 1800s, John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) is on the hunt for the beast that killed his wife and daughter. His search takes him to a small village, the top of which resides the landowner Seamus Laurant (Alistair Petrie) and his family: his wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly), daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch), and son Edward (Max Mackintosh). Shortly before McBride arrives, a land dispute between Seamus and the Romani—the rightful owners of the land—ends in tragedy, resulting in the leader of the Romani placing a curse on the colonizers inhabiting their land. Nightmares soon take root in the minds of the children, leading them to the burial ground of the massacre, and right to a set of silver animal teeth, whose bite is at the heart of the film’s werewolf lore.
The lore is perhaps the strongest part of the film, and offers a new take on the werewolf transformation. The film’s most impressive scene involves an inside look at how the infected human and the beast cohabitate. The way the infection spreads and the transformation begins is gruesome but fascinating to watch unfold. But while the creature horror and design makes up a lot for why this film is so great, the catalyst for the lore is problematic.
The Romani people are too often portrayed in the media as evil witches or possessing mystical powers, and here it’s more of the same. This tired portrayal only serves as the premise for the horrors to come for the white colonizers, while the Roma lay dead in the ground after being brutally murdered. No thoughtful representation is considered, and the townspeople only ever act indifferent or afraid of the Romani people. In a way, the events following could be seen as some sort of karmic retribution for occupying stolen land, though that sentiment perpetuates the issue anyway.
While the horror and the lore unfold at a timely pace, the film’s third act messily ties up loose ends by attempting to reconnect the plot to the cold open. Strange editing and CGI ruin the climactic showdown in the church between the werewolves and the townsfolk, leaving the emotional stakes hanging. It’s not clear either how far the werewolf disease spreads—McBride’s story about his family makes it seem like a similar curse was put on the people of his home town, but here, the events are pretty localized, with only a hint at a wider mythology at play.
Still, for fantasy creature horror, Eight For Silver will jam hard for those who love the genre.
Eight For Silver premiered Jan. 30, 2021 at the Sundance Film Festival. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, click here.