The werewolf genre is usually beholden to a formula consisting of brash, violent kills and, at some point, an effects-heavy transformation sequence. After An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, the Bottin and Baker effect informed many filmmakers that, in order to make a good werewolf movie, the creature needs to come out of the shadows at some point. Wolf Garden, from writer-director Wayne David, goes a different route entirely. This is a quiet, solitary film that lends itself more to the trappings of a psychological ghost story with a heaping of werewolf lore thrown in for good measure.
Wayne also takes the lead in Wolf Garden as the intensely troubled William, alongside actress Sian Altman who plays his accommodating girlfriend Chantelle. An incident in town has caused both of them to sneak off to a remote cabin in the woods to wait until things, hopefully, blow over. When William takes an unwise stroll through a nearby town, he sees a newspaper headline declaring that both of them have gone missing. Through a series of unsettling flashbacks and non-linear setups, William appears haunted by Chantelle who seems to appear and reappear at will. There’s also a creature in the woods he keeps feeding raw meat.
Wolf Garden is beyond a slow burn. It’s a meandering, pensive study of a man unraveling. But it never strays so far off the path that it loses its bearings completely. Mysterious calls from an outsider telling William to stay locked away arouse suspicion that he’s done something unthinkable. William never wakes up naked and afraid. But it’s clear that the werewolf trope of memory loss after a night out on the prowl is definitely at play here. Is William a werewolf? Or is he just a confused hermit? Where is his girlfriend? These questions should keep you invested just enough to see things through to the end.
An eerie soundscape of loud, boisterous strings works well to send a jolt when it’s needed most. And a real deftness for editing keeps the guessing game going without being completely disorienting. William’s vision becomes more and more blurred until, finally, the truth is revealed.
There are some visual cues to An American Werewolf in London that pay subtle reference to David Naughton’s cursed best friend trapped in limbo. Pulling triple duty, Wayne David’s Wolf Garden acknowledges the werewolf movies that have come before, but doesn’t seem concerned with duplicating them.
Even if Wolf Garden had the budget, it’s just not that kind of werewolf movie. Go in expecting a very insular story with some serious nightmare logic. The payoff is worth it, even if the final reveal feels a little forced after Wolf Garden tries so hard not to be a typical werewolf movie.
Wolf Garden is now available on Digital Platforms from Gravitas Ventures.
Wolf Garden works more when it’s delving into psychological horror instead of adhering to any kind of canonized werewolf lore.
Tags: An American Werewolf in London Wolf Garden
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