Werewolf – Film Review
by Aisling Foster
Written & directed by Adrian Panek
Cinematographer: Dominik Danilczyk
Starring Kamil Polnisiak, Sonia Mietielika & Nicolas Przygoda
This is not a horror movie, though it opens in a kind of hell- an abandoned Eastern European concentration camp in 1945, where crazed Nazi guards are savagely finishing off the last of their prisoners. A group of children, hiding with two female internees, watch without expression. Aged from about three to fourteen, their blank faces show what years of cruelty can do, their emaciated bodies, probably survivors of medical experiments, are careless of everything except their own survival.
Nonetheless, when abandoned by their Russian army liberators in an empty house in the middle of a forest, it is clear that these neglected creatures have no idea how to care for themselves. The two women with them – traumatised in their own ways – long to set out in search of the lives they have lost, but have no knowledge of where they are or which way to go. Worse, as hunger drives them out into the woods to forage for food, mysterious noises suggest a malignant presence there. And when some children go awol or sustain strange wounds, they have no words to explain what they have seen. Indeed, in this multi-ethnic slice of Europe, differences in languages and accents create their own barriers (subtle delicacies lost in our English subtitles). This is seen in the standoff between the two eldest boys, one German- speaking – probably the only Jew in the group and brilliantly played by Kamil Polnisiak. His adversary, played by Nicolas Przygoda, is a monosyllabic runaway, possibly Roma. The arrival of a pack of guard dogs from the camp, hungry and trained to kill, lock the group back inside the house. Human animals emerge from the trees, too, forcing the children to cooperate in a series of heart-stopping events.
If any of this sounds over-dramatic, it is not. The brooding music can sometimes be heavy-handed, but the tension never falters, thanks to superb acting from a mainly amateur cast and camera-work which creeps around corners or leaps with savage speed into the centre of the drama. Indeed, the only weak performances in this mesmerising work come from the dogs, a bunch of handsome Alsatians whose wagging tails and happily pricked ears betray their enjoyment in the parts they have to play in this very dark fairy-tale.