The story is narrated in flashback, based on the popular French legend about the Beast of Gévaudan, and set in France, 1765 during the reign of Louis XV.
The rural province of Gévaudan is living under a cloak of fear.
Scores of women and children have been slaughtered by a mysterious creature that is laying waste to the surrounding countryside.
We see the handiwork of the Beast at the beginning of the film in a truly frightening 'Jaws-like' attack on a terrified shepherdess as she is relentlessly pursued across a sparse, boulder-strewn landscape by an unseen attacker.
Despite the best efforts of the local authorities, the creature has managed to elude capture for years.
They don't even know what it looks like. The few who have survived an attack by the Beast tell of it's enormous size, strength and seemingly near-human intelligence.
Hysterical claims of superstition, witchcraft, demonic possession, and the presence of the devil incarnate spread like wildfire. Wolves are shot on sight.
The region is sinking into chaos, law and order are vanishing before mob rule. The thugs brought in to police the area are more interested in brutalising the peasants than catching the Beast.
Desperate to end the growing unrest and reinstate his Royal authority, the King sends Grégorie de Fronsac (Le Bihan), an enlightened natural scientist, to build a profile of the Beast in order to kill it.
He is accompanied by his enigmatic blood brother Mani (Dacascos), a Mohawk Iroquois Indian Shaman he met while serving in the Americas.
On arrival, Fronsac is immediately smitten by the lovely, decent Marianne de Morangias (Dequenne), the daughter of a noble, but finds her jealously guarded by her brother Jean François (Vincent Cassel).
He also meets the mysterious, Sylvia (Bellucci), a beautiful Italian courtesan with a kinky idea in souvenirs involving a very sharp dagger.
The hunt for the Beast begins as the unconventional duo set about ending the creature's reign of terror.
But despite the rising body count, the closer they get, the more ambivalent the local church and nobles seem to become, with the exception of an enlightened young Marquis, Thomas d'Apcher (Jérémie Renier).
Yet what these men discover about the Beast, is more shocking than anyone could have anticipated.
Brotherhood of the Wolf broke box office records in France and it is not difficult to see why.
It is brilliantly directed by Christophe Gans, written by Stephanie Cabel and edited by David Wu.
The screenplay includes liberal doses of political intrigue, philosophy, hypocrisy, class, religion, tolerance, ecology and corruption.
Le Bihan is excellent as the scientific yet philosophical Fronsac, a jaded but loyal hero, he is both a determined investigator as well as a self-confessed libertine.
If he represents science, then Mani (Dacascos) is his opposite and equal from the realm of the natural world. He is the more aesthetically pure hero with an understanding of nature, mysticism and magic.
Dacascos, an accomplished martial artist, also supplies most of the spectacular fight scenes, which are choreographed to be graceful, kinetic, yet not OTT as in the case of the Matrix and its imitators.
The supporting ensemble cast are good, in particular Bellucci as the enigmatic Sylvia who may be hiding more than she knows about Gévaudan.
Martial arts, western-style face-offs, monsters, sex, gothic horror, adventure, science, magic and political intrigue all combine to create a series of interconnecting narratives, which, although a little over long, succeed in holding the attention until the strangely fractured, yet satisfying dénouement.
Unusually, when the creature is revealed it is still left with an air of mystery.
There are explanations and reasons, but they are not hammered home. It is refreshing not to have everything dissected, post mortem style, as is the normal practice in most horror films.
This is also, perhaps, the most beautifully lit and photographed film I have ever seen. Cinematographer Dan Lautsen (Mimic) ensures each frame is a gloriously lush gothic dreamscape, giving both style and substance. Tim Burton eat your heart out.
Opens 19th October 2001.
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