Sunday, October 05, 2014

Teenage Werewolves in Love

Agnes Bruckner and Hugh Dancy in Blood and Chocolate

Blood and Chocolate (2007, directed by Katja von Garnier) is an early attempt at tapping into the marketplace for young adult fiction (it's based on a book by Annette Curtis Klause). It's a werewolf film, though it forgoes the sparkling vampires as their natural enemies (Twilight would make it into theaters a year later). Other than that, it hits all of the beats like a pro: Chosen one narrative? Forbidden love? Repressive culture? It's got all that. What it lacks is a tight control of its narrative and an instinct for the jugular.

The story follows Vivian, a young woman whose family was murdered ten years ago. She's staying with her aunt in Romania. Vivian, like her family, is a werewolf, and she's been promised to the leader of the wolves in Bucharest, Gabriel. She has her own ideas, though, and she falls for graphic novelist Aiden, who is visiting Bucharest to gather information and imagery for his next project, a book about the loup garrou. Vivian struggles to keep her family secret from him, a struggle made harder by her hot-headed cousin, Rafe, who likes to play outside the rules to satisfy his own sadistic impulses. Ultimately, Gabriel gets wind of Vivian's relationship with Aiden and dispatches Rafe to "take care" of the matter, but things go awry when Aiden manages to kill Rafe and discovers the truth about Vivian. He's captured by the ruling cabal and given the chance to escape with his life in the wolves' tribal hunt...though no one has ever escaped the hunt before.

Agnes Bruckner in Blood and Chocolate

Layered on all the angst of this film's plot is the notion that Vivian is thought to be the woman to bring hope and peace to the loup garrou. The problem with the social edifices built by young adult fantasy fiction is that it doesn't allow its heroes to be ordinary or to succeed because, y'know, they're smart or educated. No, they have to be "chosen" for greatness. There's a subtext inherent in this trope that you don't really need to try, because success will come regardless. In film, this is sometimes called the "designated hero" trope, in which the hero succeeds merely because he IS the hero. It's lazy writing. Fortunately, this film manages to sidestep this a little by sidelining Vivian for most of the third act in favor of Aiden. Aiden is not a chosen one, and manages to survive with his own wit and ability. Mind you, sidelining the female character who has been the center of your film for most of its running time has its own problems, not least of which is her loss of agency in deference to her new boyfriend.

Blood and Chocolate

I like the actors in this. Agnes Bruckner never escaped her career in b-movies and television, but she's an appealing star. Hugh Dancy is charming as Aiden, but it's hard to shake the image of him as Will Graham in Hannibal. This is no fault of his, of course. Olivier Martinez broods nicely as Gabriel. Bryan Dick is suitably twitchy as Rafe. I don't fault the direction by Katja von Garnier, who manages to impart this with something approaching a female gaze (it does like looking at the boys). Where this stumbles is in the screenplay and in it's ultimate intention. The screenplay seems like the product of a computer program. It makes heavy use of the Checkov's Gun structure of foreshadowing, but still manages to pursue narrative blind alleys (Rafe's hobby of stalking women and killing them being the most prominent of them). Worse, the dialogue is often stilted--never more so than in the final conversation between Vivian and Aiden, leaving the audience (well, me, anyway) with a sour taste in my mouth. As for intentions: well, this is a PG-13 film that uses one of the most violent horror archetypes, but even for a movie so conceived, it chooses not to test the boundaries of that rating. It's werewolves are disappointing. I can respect the choice to use actual wolves but the transformation scenes are completely toothless, if you'll pardon the pun: just some hazy optical effects and lots of contact lenses.

I want to like it. I want horror movies made by women to succeed, but even within the boundaries of its ambitions, this is a failure. I'm not inclined to blame Katja von Garnier for this film's failure. She provides the film with a veneer of slick professionalism and makes the most of its locations in Bucharest. I'm more apt to point a finger at veteran screenwriter Eheren Kruger, who ought to know better.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 4

First Time Viewings: 3

Around the Web:

Michelle Deidre plows through Les Diablolique and Audition on her own 31 Days of Horror countdown.

Scott at Blasphemous Tomes takes a trip to The Boneyard and takes in I Am A Ghost.

Jose at Riding the Nightmare braves The Strangler of the Swamp.

Eric at Expelled Grey Matter  sorts through the gender shenanigans in Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

Kevin at For It Is Man's Number has a better time with The ABCs of Death 2 than I had with its predecessor.

Tim over at The Other Side falls afoul of Female Vampire/Erotikill and the world of Jess Franco movies.

Also, a shout out to my friend, Aubyn Eli over at The Girl With the White Parasol, who isn't doing the challenge per se, but who wrote a splendid essay about The Queen of Spades back in August.

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