Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Film Review: THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984, Neil Jordan)

Stars: 3.6 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sarah Patterson (Cannon's SNOW WHITE), Angela Lansbury, David Warner (TWIN PEAKS Season 2, TIME AFTER TIME, TRON), Stephen Rea (STUCK, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE), Terence Stamp (THE LIMEY, THE HIT). Co-written by Angela Carter. Production design by Anton Furst.
Tag-line: "Where fairy stories meet horror stories!"
Best one-liner: "Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle."

Neil Jordan's THE COMPANY OF WOLVES was designed as a 'Chinese Box' of a film, with flashbacks, fables, and folklore interwoven within a larger, dream/fantasy framework. The end result is kind of a meandering, avant-garde pseudo-narrative that never quite congeals, but I still liked it quite a bit. Cannon Films (who did not produce, but distributed stateside) marketed it as a horror/thriller, a label that is bound to disappoint. In fact, it's more like "Mario Bava's classy English brother does fairy tales on 'ludes"- which is a good thing. The film possesses a sumptuous, Gothic atmosphere, sort of Lewis Carroll by-way-of Edgar Allen Poe, and it owes much of its success to Anton Furst's (BATMAN, FULL METAL JACKET) production design. A grandfather clock sits in the midst of a fog-enshrouded forest, spinning its hands ceaselessly. Giant, hideous teddy bears and sinister dolls come to life, bounding about the underbrush with uncanny mobility:

Satan (Terence Stamp!), dressed to the nines, clutches a real-life pygmy skull and beckons to you from the comfort of his Rolls-Royce:

A long-lost husband (Stephen Rea) rips the fleshy mask from his face, revealing the sinewy, lupine monstrosity beneath. A pack of wolves- hypnotically photographed in slow motion- burst forth from a shorn oil painting, dashing down the furnished hallway to your bedroom...

Yes, this film certainly makes an impression. It's also injected with a dose of mythological protofeminism, channeled by Angela Carter, co-screenwriter and author of the texts on which the film is based. The cast is a talented ensemble: as our substitute Riding Hood, the actual pre-teen Sarah Patterson exhibits a maturity far beyond her years;

Angela Lansbury is exactly as ideal a fit as you'd imagine for 'Grandmother'; and the always-serviceable David Warner gives a stoic, weighty turn as 'Father.'

David Warner unloads the groceries.

In all, it's a solid phantasmagorical mood piece, but it will rankle those looking for a traditional narrative. Nearly four stars.

-Sean Gill


HK Fanatic said...

I think I liked this a little bit more than you did, but I saw it at an impressionable age, right when Tim Burton was falling into his horrible "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" tailspin, and I was like "Wow! This is the best Tim Burton movie that Tim Burton never directed!"

I revisited it back in late '07 and it wasn't quite as amazing as I had recalled, but I still do love it. I'm a sucker for these "fairy tales for adults" type movies and this is one of the best. You add in David Warner and some truly gorgeous production design and I'm as happy I'll ever get.

Sean Gill said...

I mean, I certainly liked it, but I can understand how, depending on what stage you saw it, it could be an all-time fave. It's leaps and bounds above anything Burton has done post-SLEEPY HOLLOW, that's for sure. Plus, it seems that David Warner has been in just about every movie I've been watching lately, which is, of course, a real good thing.