SIFF Film Review – Game of Werewolves (Wolves of Arga)
When you’ve run the gamut on monsters like vampires and zombies, it seems logical that the next best place to go would be werewolves. The cool thing about werewolves is that they’re a more primal, unchained, and psychologically imbalanced kind of monster than the brooding pseudo-sexual vampire, or the decaying, decrepit metaphor for humanity that is the zombie. Werewolves are a Jekyll-and-Hyde archetype, and, as such, can play the range of terror from tragic to downright rampaging emotion. Like any good monster, though, werewolves are not just great because they exist—it’s their application to the story that makes all the difference.
Somewhere between Joe Dante’s 1981 werewolf masterpiece The Howling and the teen soap Twilight series, werewolves lost their way. Shrouded away under some faint nostalgia, they’ve made their appearances when it seemed like a worthy moment of revival. Now, in Juan Martinez Mareno’s midnight horror comedy Game of Werewolves, we have a revival moment begging to crack beyond the surface of the public consciousness—at least, for those who can get the opportunity to see it. Originally titled The Wolves of Arga, the story follows Tomas, a struggling writer who’s decided to take up an offer of inheritance of some property in the rural village of Arga. Thinking it will be the perfect place to write his second novel, Tomas leaves his life with his grandmother behind and sets out for solitude. Of course, this being a horror film, things do not go according to plan and Tomas finds himself in the center of an old curse that haunts the town.
To both its credit and its disservice, Game of Werewolves‘s humor is prominently on front display. The nature of the curse itself comes with a certain sense of humor—one that even the townsfolk point out, as it turns out that if one part of the curse is not rectified by a certain hour on a certain day, then a new curse will take effect. This confuses everyone until the punchline is delivered a short time later, as the new curse takes place and a pack of werewolves descends on a small group of people left to survive. Tomas is not alone in his battle with the werewolf curse, as he is joined by a childhood best friend, Calisto (Carlos Areces), and his editor, Mario (Secun de la Rosa).
The film’s tone hovers somewhere between straight camp, with men in rubber werewolf suits, and a sometimes sobering brutality, as in one scene where a werewolf hunts an elderly couple in their home as prey. The dichotomy of the two tones can be extreme at times, and somewhat jarring because of that. In some films, like John Landis’s classic werewolf flick An American Werewolf in London, the switching of tones can be an added strength, but I found that not to be the case in this film. Too many variations between horrific and deliberate camp left me unsure what I wanted to feel at any given time. The relationship between Tomas and Calisto is also far too identical to that of Simon Pegg’s and Nick Frost’s characters in Shaun of the Dead.
The trailers for Game of Werewolves made it look to be the werewolf answer to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, but unfortunately the final package is a bit lackluster in comparison and left me a bit disappointed because of that. I loved the visual throwback to physical special effects, and thought the men in rubber werewolf suits were a near stroke of perfection for the film’s aesthetic, but the film is hindered by its desire to try too hard to be a film it doesn’t need to be. Edgar Wright and comapany did a fantastic job with their humor/horror mix, and it’s not to be said that others can’t either. But the films that succeed and are truly good at being that right blend of humor and terror seek to do so on their own merits. This film felt like its heart was in the right place, but its execution was not as over the top as I was hoping for. When chaos rains down in the final chapter, there are some great moments (of which one does not involve werewolves, but does involve fingers), but in the end, it’s all a matter of perspective and expectation. Those who have not seen a great deal of campy and well-done werewolf films will probably not be as judgmental, but I do feel that the movies elements on their own, without expectation attached, do not add up to the film it had the potential to be.
Still, Game of Werewolves is entertaining and far better than most horror movies coming out recently, and as I often say that modern horror films are not as successful as they used to be because they aren’t as fun to watch anymore, at least this movie has that going for it. It wants you to have a good time while you’re being terrified.
Game of Werewolves screens tonight at midnight at the Egyptian Theatre, May 29th at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown, and June 2nd at the Kirkland Performance Center.
Final Grade: B-