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Eight for Silver: Period Werewolf Film Thrills

Eight for Silver is a well-crafted and fun take on the werewolf horror genre – it’s as though A24 made Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Eight for Silver is Sundance’s period werewolf film. Set primarily in the 1880s, the film sees a mythical creature torment an aristocratic family as a result of a curse they have wrought upon themselves. Eight for Silver is a gorgeous film that drags about a limited budget to an express extreme. The world building, costumes, and production design are all top notch and help create a cohesive atmosphere for the horror fun.

The film opens with a World War I battle sequence divorced from context. A few British soldiers adorned in masks prepare for a charge across No Man’s Land. Writer-Director Sean Ellis’ (Anthropoid) camera meanders through the trenches before settling in on one soldier and the encroaching gas. As the mustard gas surrounds the troops, we see it seep up through the holes in the slave of an unnamed soldier. As the British soldiers charge into battle, we follow one infantryman.

Soon, he’s shot and taken to a medical tent; as medics begin field surgery, they start to pull bullets from his torso – one bullet, a second bullet, a part of a third… and finally, a conical silver bullet. The doctor drops the bullet in a tray as the man dies. Then, the film flashes back to 35 years earlier. It’s a remarkably effective and evocative scene which crafts an immediate sense of place and shows a wonderful sense of artistry.

It’s an important scene which helps tether the film to the modern world before the chaos that is to come. It is easy to think of a film set in the 1880s as lost to time and somehow antiquated. Sean Ellis doesn’t want us to have that mercy of experience. When we flash back, it’s made clear the “modern world” is within shouting distance of the story told here. That’s important to keep in mind, as very quickly the stakes are set: a tribe of Romani are brutally murdered by a group of local landed white men. Ellis is savvy with his construction here too, he knows his audience. The titillation of mass violence this sort of film usually provide is withheld as the carnage is captured via one static, steady camera. The shot is immobile and unflinching as the Romani are slowly butchered. It’s stupendously crafted, but it maintains a distance. Ellis doesn’t want his gore-hound audience to have the titillation the genre demands.

Look, it’s really difficult to balance the needs of genre filmmaking with the complexity of telling a story through a modern lens. Some viewers are going to struggle with the fact that the film is, in essence, telling a story of a Romani curse causing an infestation of werewolf-esque creatures. That is problematic storytelling for many in 2021, but I think Ellis wisely balance the tropes of that sort of story with a somewhat less exploitative lens.

Ellis assembled a wonderful, committed cast to tell this story. Boyd Holbrook (Logan) is well establishing himself as a rock-solid genre actor. He appears to intrinsically grasp the exact sort of balance of goofy and serious this sort of story requires. He makes for a charismatic likable leading man as a pathology/monster hunter. Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) is credible and invested as the maternal figure in the story. She’s given a bit more to do than women oft are in this sort of storytelling and elevates her part. Alistair Petrie (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) stood out the most for me. Petrie plays the afflicted family’s patriarch with just the right mix of humanity and steely gravity. There’s a sharp edge to his performance that makes it click just right.

Eight for Silver is yet another film that has stumbled into accidently heightened relevance in a post-COVID world. The film not only has its characters trapped in one region by varied cholera outbreaks, but sees tension ratcheted as a result of people stuck sheltering in place together to avoid imminent threat. While Ellis certainly couldn’t have known what was to come, it gives his screenplay an extra oomph of credibility that he’s captured human behavior so effectively.

At the end of the day, this movie was fun. Ellis crafts a joyful homage to the classic genre story with a modern, A24-style artisan’s edge. This year’s Sundance had a remarkable number of dark, unpleasant, fraught experiences. Eight for Silver’s greatest virtue is that the film put a smile on my face more than any other – gore-soaked werewolf kills and well executed jump scares. I suspect Eight for Silver will play wonderfully on the big screen and I hope I get the chance to revisit it that way later this year.

Eight for Silver premiered online, at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, on Sunday, January 31, 2021.

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