Adrian Panek’s post WWII film Werewolf follows eight children, liberated from the horrors of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. Released to starve in a ruinous orphanage under the care of the jaded and bitter Jadwiga the children begin to deal with the aftermath of their traumatic experiences.
These early scenes are truly harrowing; the children beat a rat to death, inflict severe violence on one another and feast on what scraps they can find. Watching the children devouring dog food, mouldering potatoes and insects is horrifying, but it’s good that Werewolf doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. Plenty of films focus on the flames, bombs and bullets but the long-term psychological impacts of war are too often ignored.
The film loses its way a little about half-way through when it gets deep into the actual werewolf business. The house is surrounded by ravenous wolfhounds, once used as guard dogs at the now liberated concentration camps. The film’s focus switches from the children’s struggle to survive the workaday bleakness of post war Europe to the feral dogs ripping them to shreds. It’s a disappointing change, from intense psychological analysis to kitschy horror.
Allegorical it may be, but frankly it takes away from the previously fantastic character development and heartfelt story of a damaged young woman doing her best to rebuild shattered lives and replaces it with an hour of growling, slavering and running.
I feel Werewolf would have been much better if the script had kept to a more realistic premise. I’m not sure this film even needed an antagonist, surely the spectre of Nazi occupation and ethnic cleansing fills that role nicely.
Still, Werewolf is produced exceptionally well. The windblown forests and crumbling mansion are the perfect settings, wild and solemn. The use of makeup and costume gives the characters a genuinely dirty, haggard appearance, and the acting itself is a highlight, especially from a mostly non-professional cast of children.
It’s a shame Panek felt the need to take Werewolf in the direction he chose. But he’s obviously a talented director and if there’s one thing this film does well, it is shining a light on the monstrous trail that war leaves behind.
Jonny Keen | [rating=3]
Horror, War |Poland 2018| 15 | Subtitles | 4th October 2019 (UK) | Eureka Entertainment | Dir.Adrian Panek| Kamil Polnisiak, Nicolas Przygoda, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka, Helena Mazur