A “found footage” horror movie about werewolves? From the guys behind The Devil Inside? Bear with me, I promise there’s a light at the end of this topsy-turvy tunnel.
Where The Exorcism Of Emily Rose attempts to weigh demonic possession against mental illness, Wer calls upon the same judicial storytelling by putting a suspected werewolf on trial in hopes of proving innocence through physical ailments. Playing out like a faux-documentary, most of the film is spent watching a sassy lawyer defender her furry client, condemning a case riddled with inconsequential evidence that only the worst investigation could slum together, but a shockingly invigorated third act changes at the rising of a full moon. Writer/Director William Brent Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman’s previous film, The Devil Inside, crumbles under the weight of vapid storytelling and an absolutely insulting ending, but these rejuvenated artists refuse to wander the same joyless road a second time. Wer comes alive where The Devil Inside falls apart, stuffing audience’s gullets with frenzied werewolf carnage, but after sitting through two acts worth of rather plodding casework, crowds will be divided over one common question – does Wer‘s payoff deliver a rowdy enough conclusion to compensate for an hour’s worth of lethargic legalities?
A.J. Cook plays Kate Moore, an ambitious American ex-pat lawyer abroad, who must defend a French man named Talan (Brian Scott O’Connor) who’s currently on trial for the murder of a vacationing family. Convinced such a visibly suffering man couldn’t possibly have ravaged the unsuspecting campsite, crushing skulls with the power of 4,000 PSI, it becomes her mission to prove Talan’s innocence. Aided by her crack “investigator” Erik (Vik Sahay) and her romantically complicated medical advisor Gavin (Simon Quarterman), Kate battles with local authorities who believe Talan to be a ruthless murderer, but each clue uncovered sides more with the timid countryman – until a dark family secret changes everything.
Frankly, Wer deserves credit for pulling Bell and Peterman from the dregs of horror genre Hell, banished to the lowest points after wasting everyone’s time who grumbled through The Devil Inside. Wer might begin just like their previously unfulfilling exorcism flick, hiding reveals while swinging focus around like their cameraman suddenly experienced a seizure, but then a surprisingly intriguing werewolf legends kicks in with ample amounts reinvention and ingenuity. I promise, you’ve never seen werewolves dealt with such humanity, transforming even more minimally than Michael J. Fox’s slam-dunking teenage hairball – creating more a murderer than Universal creature.
Similar genre pieces such as An American Werewolf In London, and more recently Hemlock Grove, pride themselves on skin-tearing transformations whenever it’s time for Wolfy to play, but I find Wer‘s scenario tenfold more frightening because changes to Talan’s body are physically understated. Super strength, four-legged speed and a nimble agility are hidden under patchy fur and a gangly body, ready to make mincemeat of victims ignorant of the moon’s full appearance. Where The Devil Inside vomits nothing but wretched staleness, Wer remains authentically fresh, viciously engaging and hauntingly memorable – the stuff new legends are made out of.
While werewolf design alone impresses, Wer rockets uncontrollably into a nightmare realm where escape is not an option, nor are deaths painlessly swift. This can’t be the same William Brent Bell, can it? Talan’s killing spree savagely pulls every punch possible with an intensified fury werewolves haven’t felt in some time, ever since Twilight‘s shirtless wonder doghoused an entire subgenre. Heads splatter against walls like rotten fruit, fangs tear through weak flesh and characters fear werewolf attacks once again, kicking into an intensified overdrive once Bell’s sinister vision unleashes itself. Wer brings the thunder in terms of werewolf horror, and becomes one of the more thrilling watches once Kate is forced to hunt down the elusive creature she unknowingly releases, as Bell makes sure all the horror excitement actually happens ON screen this time around.
Then again, watching A.J. Cook’s uninspired lawyering doesn’t exactly replicate the feel of O.J. Simpson’s trial – and that’s going to be the dividing factor among audiences. More patient horror fans will be in for a rare treat once all the murky investigations turn into energized, bloody splatterfests, but Wer doesn’t exactly muster the gusto of a horrific A Few Good Men rendition. There’s an inevitability while watching Cook sift through medical records, crime scene footage and torn-up carcasses, knowing that a werewolf movie will bust out at any moment, and it’s this anticipation that downplays the severity of Talan’s judicial trial. A conflict is established, legitimate attempts are explored to suggest the hairy manbeast’s innocence, but Bell and Peterman rely heavily on “found footage” boredom – quick cuts, soulless excitement and overburdening redundancy. Don’t get me wrong, Wer is a MASSIVE step forward as far as horror is concerned from our stigmatic filmmakers, but their storytelling aspects still require much more tightening of the screws if true brilliance is to be achieved.
I tend to be more on the forgiving side, and in that breath, Wer shocked the hell out of me. Dumped straight to VOD without any notice, I was certain Bell and Peterman were setting me up for another superfluous horror experience – but a wasteful snoozer Wer is not. Far from it. Dare I say Talan’s werewolf incarnation provides a genuinely unique werewolf character unseen by horror watchers, traversing grounds and legends never dreamed of? Wer embraces a human, daringly underdeveloped creature who plays off of our own unbridled aggression, not a sinisterly bloodthirsty mean streak, making for an infinitely more harrowing – and understandable – monster. Of course, there’s also a more mundane criminal story one has to take part in before Bell and Peterman flex their beastly muscles, but Wer is good enough to curiously make you wonder if The Devil Inside is worth a redemptive second chance.
While Wer stumbles a bit out of the gate, a fiercely wild werewolf story eventually takes over that enters genre areas previously unexplored by horror filmmakers, resulting in an ambitious payoff that redefines how we see werewolves.