Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Poor werewolf. His sexier cousin, the vampire, has always had better luck on the big screen.
After the one-two punch of Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (both from 1981), there has been a distinct lack of quality lycanthrope cinema. There was Mike Nichols’ Wolf (Nicholson and Pfeiffer do scream “quality,” after all), but that lacked bite, and the more recent Underworld films (where the werewolves share screen time with their sexier vampire cousins) are just too MTV/CGI for their own good.
Taking a slightly different tack is Katja von Garnier‘s Blood and Chocolate.

Vivian (Agnes Bruckner, 24 Day 3) is one of the loup garou, who have lived among us in secret for centuries. She is also about to become the latest wife of the leader of the pack, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez, the lover in Unfaithful and the baddie in S.W.A.T.), who, alpha male that he is, takes a new wife every seven years.
But Vivian crosses paths with Aidan (Hugh Dancy, Galahad in Antoine Fuqua‘s King Arthur), an American graphic novel artist doing research in Romania on the loup garou. The young man brashly pursues her and the two become romantically involved, all the while being observed and harassed by the upstart Rafe (Bryan Dick, Brothers of the Head and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), Gabriel’s son, and Vivian’s cousin.

Blood and Chocolate is more potentially doomed love affair than either action thrill ride or midnight horror movie, and in that, it’s closer to Wolf than any of the other films I’ve mentioned in this review.
Given that the main character is Vivian, it’s also rather evident that this is one of those films that targets the female demographic more than anything else. Like TV’s Blood Ties, it’s even got the pretty boy graphic novel artist. It also presents the transformation sequences as more ethereal than physical, eschewing both practical special make-up effects or heavy CGI work. All one has to do is leap into the air and twist, just so, and one shiny bright light later, you’re a hairy four-legged wolf.
Now, I have nothing against this sort of movie, if it happens to be a good, involving one, but Blood and Chocolate doesn’t even seem to try.

There’s a lot of lip service paid to the idea of being one’s own self, and some shots taken at the tyranny of a patriarchal society, but it doesn’t have anything to ground itself on, as Vivian doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special or different. Bruckner brings nothing noteworthy to the table in her performance, so the character doesn’t really come to life. And Dancy is a Brit who is a bit too successful at being the brash young American, not the most credible romantic lead in these strange circumstances.
But as off-target as these performances are, Martinez and Dick are significantly more problematic.

As the main protagonists of the piece, one expects actors of substance to inhabit the roles. Instead, we have Martinez, who lacks the presence and the gravitas to be the pack’s alpha male, and Dick, who just comes across as an annoyance of the Wicked Stepsister school, an auxiliary character whose raison d’etre is to make the main character’s life a living hell.
There are a number of reasons why Rafe would hate his cousin: Rafe’s mother (Astrid, played by Katja Riemann) is the wife about to be tossed aside in favor of Vivian; Vivian is aware of Rafe’s personal hunting of prey—against Gabriel’s law of communal hunting-as-ritual; he could even be threatened by her very presence, which would be confusing and embarrassing for a would-be alpha male.
But Dick just doesn’t communicate any of that properly. All he does is get in her face in the most irritating way, making him seem more like a spoiled brat than anything else, certainly not the next alpha male in line, as he seems to think.

Of course, the script (by Ehren Kruger and Christopher Landon, based on the young adult novel by Annette Curtis Klause) also doesn’t give the characters ample opportunity to display anything more than the most basic personalities, so the fault isn’t solely in the actors’ ball court. I’ve repeatedly bemoaned Kruger in the past, feeling that the only time he’s gotten it spot on was the English-language Ring Two. Blood and Chocolate falls somewhere near The Skeleton Key and The Brothers Grimm, in that it was trying to be something more than your average genre movie, but faltered short of the mark.

In the end, Blood and Chocolate was a wasted opportunity to develop genre material along lines not usually explored in feature films. I applaud the fact that this was clearly not meant to be your typical werewolf movie. Getting Von Garnier to helm this seemed an interesting and appropriate choice; given that she also directed HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels, she’s handled the subject of strong women before.
The result though, is a lukewarm piece that lacks conviction, and yes, bite.
Just because you’re not giving the audience Underworld action or Howling gore, doesn’t mean you give them a lifeless lump of celluloid either.

(Blood and Chocolate OS courtesy of

No comments: