Werewolf (Wilkolak) Reviews

  • Nov 27, 2019

    The real threat to the kids is those adults who started the war and ignored those who lost their parents and their ways.

    The real threat to the kids is those adults who started the war and ignored those who lost their parents and their ways.

  • Oct 19, 2019

    A World War II political allegory/fairy tale/coming of age drama wrapped up in a horror aesthetic Part-World War II/concentration camp drama, part-fairy tale, part-psychological study of how even children can descend into barbarism given the right circumstances, part-allegory for what happened to Poland after German occupancy was replaced with Soviet occupancy, all wrapped up in the aesthetic and tonal qualities of a horror movie, writer/director Adrian Panek's Wilkołak is a parable of violence and lost innocence. Kind of like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) set in the aftermath of the War, with elements of Charles Perrault's 1697 version of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) as well as films such as Démanty noci (1964), White Dog (1982), and Fehér isten (2014), Wilkołak is understated, subtle, and thematically layered. Poland, 1945. When Gross-Rosen concentration camp is liberated by the Red Army, a group of eight children are transported to a temporary orphanage housed in a dilapidated mansion in the forest. The group includes the de facto leader, Hanka (Sonia Mietielica), who, at 20, is the eldest by several years; Hanys (Nicolas Przygoda) a late addition to the group from another camp, who is not made especially welcome; the possibly irreparably disturbed Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak), who resents Hanys's presence, and from whose perspective much of the film is told; and Mala (Matylda Ignasiak) a mute six-year-old girl. The only adult at the mansion is the disillusioned Jadwiga (the always excellent Danuta Stenka). As Hanka attempts to re-civilise the children, however, running out of food ceases to be their main concern, as the now feral guard dogs from Gross-Rosen, driven mad with hunger, have made their way through the forest and have surrounded the mansion. Much of the film is concerned with barbarism; the idea that the children have been dehumanised. One of the first scenes upon arriving at the mansion sees several of them stomping a rat, and it's telling that the first instance of violence after we leave Gross-Rosen is perpetrated not by a German, a Soviet, or a dog, but by the children themselves. Of course, this foregrounds the question of who is the eponymous Wilkołak. Panek approaches this by drawing a lot of parallels between the children and the dogs; both are hungry, both have been taught barbarism, both are aggressive and feral, both move in packs, both need significant reconditioning. Indeed, just as is the case with the dogs, Hanka says of the children, "they can't go hungry or they'll kill each other", to which Jadwiga says, "then let them kill each other". This draws yet another parallel – neither group are seen as worth saving, neither is considered human. The most obvious aesthetic element of the film is that it employs classic horror tropes throughout - POV shots of the dogs in the forest; the grisly discovery of a mutilated corpse; a slow-motion shot as one of the children is being chased by a dog; the dilapidated and isolated house, both sanctuary and prison; Dominik Danilczy's ominous photography which often shoots from around corners and within shadows. Additionally, much of the film is focalised by Wladek, which confers an element of intimacy and emotional stoicism (insofar as Wladek is emotionally shut down). Grafting the story of concentration camp survivors onto a horror template may seem crass and disrespectful, but Panek pulls it off magnificently. There are a few problems here and there, but none are especially serious. For example, the film lags a little in the long middle act, which sees the dogs surround the house, and which becomes a little repetitious, with the tension slackening somewhat. This act could have done with having maybe ten minutes or so shaved off. Another small issue is that apart from Hanka, Hanys, and Wladek, none of the other children receives any characterisation. Mala gets a little backstory, but that's about it, with the rest of the group essentially functioning as background extras, often blurring into one another. These small issues notwithstanding, however, Wilkołak is an exceptional film. What really struck me was that despite its use of horror tropes and a fairy tale aesthetic, there's hardly anything here that couldn't have happened in historical actuality. This is part of the reason that the film never comes across as exploitative or distasteful; because it maintains a realist stance throughout. All things considered, this is a thematically fascinating, brilliantly made film.

    A World War II political allegory/fairy tale/coming of age drama wrapped up in a horror aesthetic Part-World War II/concentration camp drama, part-fairy tale, part-psychological study of how even children can descend into barbarism given the right circumstances, part-allegory for what happened to Poland after German occupancy was replaced with Soviet occupancy, all wrapped up in the aesthetic and tonal qualities of a horror movie, writer/director Adrian Panek's Wilkołak is a parable of violence and lost innocence. Kind of like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) set in the aftermath of the War, with elements of Charles Perrault's 1697 version of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) as well as films such as Démanty noci (1964), White Dog (1982), and Fehér isten (2014), Wilkołak is understated, subtle, and thematically layered. Poland, 1945. When Gross-Rosen concentration camp is liberated by the Red Army, a group of eight children are transported to a temporary orphanage housed in a dilapidated mansion in the forest. The group includes the de facto leader, Hanka (Sonia Mietielica), who, at 20, is the eldest by several years; Hanys (Nicolas Przygoda) a late addition to the group from another camp, who is not made especially welcome; the possibly irreparably disturbed Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak), who resents Hanys's presence, and from whose perspective much of the film is told; and Mala (Matylda Ignasiak) a mute six-year-old girl. The only adult at the mansion is the disillusioned Jadwiga (the always excellent Danuta Stenka). As Hanka attempts to re-civilise the children, however, running out of food ceases to be their main concern, as the now feral guard dogs from Gross-Rosen, driven mad with hunger, have made their way through the forest and have surrounded the mansion. Much of the film is concerned with barbarism; the idea that the children have been dehumanised. One of the first scenes upon arriving at the mansion sees several of them stomping a rat, and it's telling that the first instance of violence after we leave Gross-Rosen is perpetrated not by a German, a Soviet, or a dog, but by the children themselves. Of course, this foregrounds the question of who is the eponymous Wilkołak. Panek approaches this by drawing a lot of parallels between the children and the dogs; both are hungry, both have been taught barbarism, both are aggressive and feral, both move in packs, both need significant reconditioning. Indeed, just as is the case with the dogs, Hanka says of the children, "they can't go hungry or they'll kill each other", to which Jadwiga says, "then let them kill each other". This draws yet another parallel – neither group are seen as worth saving, neither is considered human. The most obvious aesthetic element of the film is that it employs classic horror tropes throughout - POV shots of the dogs in the forest; the grisly discovery of a mutilated corpse; a slow-motion shot as one of the children is being chased by a dog; the dilapidated and isolated house, both sanctuary and prison; Dominik Danilczy's ominous photography which often shoots from around corners and within shadows. Additionally, much of the film is focalised by Wladek, which confers an element of intimacy and emotional stoicism (insofar as Wladek is emotionally shut down). Grafting the story of concentration camp survivors onto a horror template may seem crass and disrespectful, but Panek pulls it off magnificently. There are a few problems here and there, but none are especially serious. For example, the film lags a little in the long middle act, which sees the dogs surround the house, and which becomes a little repetitious, with the tension slackening somewhat. This act could have done with having maybe ten minutes or so shaved off. Another small issue is that apart from Hanka, Hanys, and Wladek, none of the other children receives any characterisation. Mala gets a little backstory, but that's about it, with the rest of the group essentially functioning as background extras, often blurring into one another. These small issues notwithstanding, however, Wilkołak is an exceptional film. What really struck me was that despite its use of horror tropes and a fairy tale aesthetic, there's hardly anything here that couldn't have happened in historical actuality. This is part of the reason that the film never comes across as exploitative or distasteful; because it maintains a realist stance throughout. All things considered, this is a thematically fascinating, brilliantly made film.