Director: Christophe Gans
Screenplay: Stéphane Cabel, Christophe Gans
Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Jérémie Renier, Vincent Cassel, Émilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci
Country: France
Running Time: 151 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 15

In 2001, StudioCanal released Brotherhood of the Wolf unto the world, a period genre-movie hybrid, based on actual accounts from 18th Century France. On paper, this unusual blend of gothic horror, swashbuckler, martial-arts movie and bodice-ripping romance shouldn’t work. However, the film, directed by Christophe Gans, garnered largely positive reviews and proved to be a hit with audiences too, becoming one of the biggest international box office successes for a French film.

The film’s popularity was aided by the fact that there was a big boom of interest in stylishly shot movies featuring martial arts, following the huge success of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and others. I was riding that wave too, back then, hoovering up any kung-fu-heavy films I could find, newly discovering a great love of the martial arts genre. So, of course, I caught The Brotherhood of the Wolf as soon as I could.

I enjoyed the film a lot back then but, for whatever reason, haven’t revisited it for a long time since those first couple of viewings. So, when StudioCanal announced they’d be re-releasing the film in its Director’s Cut, with a new 4K remastered print, I leapt at the chance to review it.

Brotherhood of the Wolf is set in the year 1764 (other than framing scenes set during the revolution) in the picturesque region of Gevaudan in France, where a series of brutal killings terrorizes the local population. A mysterious and deadly creature, resembling a giant wolf, is believed to be responsible for the carnage. As panic spreads, the king sends the renowned naturalist and taxidermist, Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), to investigate and eliminate the beast.

Accompanied by his loyal companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos), a Native American Iroquois, Fronsac arrives in Gevaudan, where he is immediately met with suspicion and resistance from the superstitious villagers. However, he soon befriends Jean-François (Jérémie Renier), the local Marquis d’Apcher, and also falls head over heals for the beautiful noblewoman Marianne (Émilie Dequenne). Fronsac attempts to woo her, much to the dismay of her father and brother Jean-François (Vincent Cassel), the latter of whom is a famed hunter who seems bitter and twisted due to losing his arm.

As Fronsac and Mani investigate the incidents around the area, they become inclined to believe that this ‘beast’ is far from the large wolf many claim it to be and it may, in fact, have a human owner controlling its actions. This idea is dismissed by most though, as the local dignitaries push on with the senseless slaughter of the local wolf population.

Meanwhile, Fronsac becomes bewitched by the enigmatic courtesan, Sylvia (Monica Bellucci). This, as you might imagine, causes some friction in the relationship he’s developed with Marianne. Sylvia’s intentions are not clear though and being with her causes Fronsac to experience some frightening dreams.

I don’t whether it’s just the fact that I’ve seen an awful lot more martial arts movies since I last saw Brotherhood of the Wolf or that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I rewatched it recently, but the film didn’t quite live up to my memory of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Brotherhood of the Wolf. It’s a sumptuous and action-packed romp. However, a few seams appeared to be showing this time around.

Gans, in his commentary included on this disc, admits he prefers the first half of the film to the second. I’d agree with that. Whilst the action effectively ramps up towards the end, the storytelling becomes convoluted and some character shifts are less convincing. The first half keeps things simple and this works in its favour, because the film, in essence, is something best appreciated at surface value. It’s not a deep, thought-provoking affair. As such, the epic length of the film feels unwarranted, even if it can hardly be called slow.

Some of this might be attributed to the fact that the version I watched on this disc was the extended ‘director’s cut’. There are several different versions of the film and the details of these are too complicated to get into here and I don’t know the previous versions well enough to attempt to do a comparison justice. However, from what I can gather online, whilst this ‘complete version’ makes more narrative sense than most of the others, some of the added strands are pretty weak. Most notably, we get a flip-flopping relationship with Marienne that is woefully unconvincing. I think this was available in previous UK cuts but not in some of the theatrical ones elsewhere. The UK finally get the added scenes with the ‘Chief of the Hunt’ though. The plot had some holes without these, previously.

The visual style of the film both impresses and shows its age. The film looks undeniably gorgeous, with the mostly on-location settings lit and lensed beautifully, with a great sense of atmosphere. The production design matches this too, with lavish details and carefully chosen colours. Gans is clearly a devoted cinephile (which is backed up by his contributions to the extra features) who puts a lot of thought into his mis-en-scene, referencing a wide range of influences to create stunningly cinematic imagery.

However, it’s in some of the extra flourishes, largely in the editing, that the style hasn’t held up perfectly. In the action scenes, in particular, the editing is too frantic for my tastes. You can still follow what’s going on, but I’d much prefer a more held-back approach to properly soak in the skills of the great Mark Dacascos. Gans also has a tendency to over use speed-ramps (where the film shifts between fast, standard and slow-motion speeds). These were very popular in the early-2000s, after The Matrix made great use of them, but now they feel a bit faddish and distracting.

The action scenes are still quite impressive though. As mentioned, Dacascos is a pleasure to watch, being highly skilled in martial arts on top of generally having a magnetic presence. Samuel Le Bihan does a convincingly good job with his action scenes too. Philip Kwok’s choreography is remarkably good for a non-HK production, utilising a lot of acrobatic moves and weapon combat.

The beast, when it’s finally unveiled, is made up of a mixture of animatronics (done by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) and CGI. The latter, again, shows its age, not always looking wholly convincing, but it’s not bad for an early-2000s non-Hollywood production. It must be pointed out though, that the effects had to be tweaked for the new restoration, so that they would stand up in 4k. I imagine it was mainly just the textures that were amended though, rather than the movement.

Overall then, Brotherhood of the Wolf, like its blend of genres, is a bit of a mixed bag. Exciting on one hand, yet a little overlong, visually stunning but dated-looking in spots too. On the whole though, the film is a handsome, rousing adventure that may be shallow but still manages to be a thoroughly entertaining watch.


The Brotherhood of the Wolf (Director’s Cut) is out on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital on 15th May in the UK, released by Studiocanal. Gans claims the previous Blu-ray releases were merely SD upscales, whereas this new 4k remaster was done using the original negatives. I don’t have the details or my own copies of other versions to clarify, but I can state that this new version (on the Blu-ray I’ve seen at least) looks magnificent. Colours are rich, details are pin sharp, yet it still has that sumptuous, natural shot-on-film look. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of what it looks like, though these compressed JPEGs don’t do it justice. The French soundtrack is available in Dolby Atmos, the English one only in 5.1. I opted for the French and it was, once again, beautifully realised.

BLU RAY Extras:
– BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF Director’s Cut (2022 restoration)
– Audio Commentary with Christophe Gans
– Audio Commentary with Vincent Cassel & Samuel Le Bihan
– NEW Trailer

– NEW Interview with Christophe Gans & Jean-Baptiste Thoret
– The Guts of the Beast
– Behind the scenes
– Deleted Scenes:
– The Fight
– The Crow
– Fronsac and Sardis
– The Frozen Lake
– The House Tessier
– Montage
– La Legend: a programme on the origins of The Beast
– Theatrical Trailer
– Restored Original trailer

The UHD edition obviously replaces Blu-ray 1 with a UHD containing a 4K version of the same contents, plus it also includes a third Blu-ray disc with the following extras:

– BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (Theatrical Cut) unrestored
– Interview with Christophe Gans by Jean-Pierre Jackson
– Featurettes:
– The Extras
– The Studies of Fronsac
– Mise-en-scène
– Emilie and the music
– Thomas D’Apcher
– Jérémie Rénier and the horses
– Special effects
– Make-up

The commentary with Vincent Cassel & Samuel Le Bihan isn’t particularly insightful but it’s a lot of fun. The pair don’t take their duties too seriously and enjoy a bit of banter whilst pointing out a few behind-the-scenes secrets.

The commentary with Gans is a rather different affair, with the director talking in great detail about how each scene was put together and what films influenced him. It’s a rich and engrossing track.

The new interview with Gans runs for close to an hour and a half, so offers a lengthy and in-depth look back at the film and its success. Once again, Gans discusses his influences, including that of Chang Cheh’s The New One-Armed Swordsman and Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans. He also talks of the problems faced during the shoot and waxes philosophical about his work and that of French and genre cinema in general. It’s a vital addition to the set, though I found the shooting style distracting in places, the subtitles poorly proofread and the slightly pretentious vaping interviewer rather irritating.

We also get not one but two feature-length behind-the-scenes documentaries. One, unimaginitively titled ‘Behind the Scenes’, is very much a fly-on-the-wall affair that charts the difficult production from start to finish. The weather was a big problem, on top of the general chore of making such a lavish, action-packed production largely on location. It’s fascinating to watch the work done in such detail without the fluff that often comes from talking heads interviews. I was just going to watch half of it to get an idea of it (this disc is so loaded with material it’s a mission to get through it all, so I was tempted to skim), but got engrossed and watched the whole lot.

The other documentary, ‘The Guts of the Beast’, takes the opposite approach, structuring itself around a series of interviews. Thankfully it does so in the best way, speaking to a wide range of contributors who give a genuinely interesting full account of the film’s inception, production and post-production. This is enhanced by more behind-the-scenes footage, including rehearsals of the action scenes, which are a pleasure to watch. Once again, I found myself entranced by the whole documentary.

The deleted scenes are interesting to watch too, greatly aided by explanatory interviews with Gans. With these additional excerpts, the deleted scenes as a whole add up to a considerable length. One of the scenes is an extended version of the opening fight. I’m surprised how much was cut out and actually prefer this longer take on the sequence, as it allows the fight to ‘breathe’ and play out properly. However, I appreciate Gans’ reasons for leaving out Fronsac’s inclusion, allowing for his ‘transformation’ in the final act.

‘La Legend’ is a fascinating piece too, which has an expert explore the history and facts of the actual Beast of Gévaudan. It helps you appreciate that whilst Gans and co-writer Stéphane Cabel took a number of liberties with the story, they did tell an otherwise fairly respectful account of the legend.

So, it’s quite a package. Yes, most of the material has been available elsewhere but, to the best of my knowledge, we’ve never had a UK release with anywhere near this amount of supplements. There are close to 10 hours worth of extras, including both commentaries, which is exhausting to get through but, surprisingly, not so repetitive to feel like overkill. The film might not have been as perfect as I remembered but this release is still set to be one of the best to come out this year.


Brotherhood of the Wolf (Director's Cut) - Studiocanal
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