When word got out that Metro Manila director Sean Ellis was premiering a film about werewolves at the 2021 Sundance Festival, it immediately became one of the most anticipated films for this year’s fest. Ellis had already proved himself a competent director, both with his BAFTA nominated film Metro Manila as well as his Oscar nominated short film debut Cashback, so the idea of him returning to the festival with his take on one of Hollywood’s most iconic movie monsters was bound to turn some heads.
It is almost unheard of for a monster film to be programmed in the premiere category at Sundance, as most often than not, these films tend to be sequestered to the rowdy and rambunctious crowds that stalk the festival at night. All early indicators showed that this was going to be a horror movie for the ages, and boy did it not disappoint.
Eight for Silver tells the story of the Laurents, an affluent country family who find themselves stricken by a sinister curse after slaughtering a clan of Romani trespassers. As time goes by, the children of the village begin experiencing fits of collective nightmares which will forever change the way you see scarecrows. It is not long before the dreams start to manifest physically in the form of a ravenous beast of unknown origins which begins to stalk and pick off the villagers one by one. Realizing the gravity of their situation, and with suspicions that something evil is afoot, the Laurent family enlists the help of John McBride (Boyd Holbrook – Logan) a musket-wielding traveling pathologist who’d just as soon shoot you as he would look at you under a microscope. Together, they must work to put an end to the terror that stalks their village, and unravel the mystery of the terrible events that set everything in motion.
Right from the film’s onset it becomes exceedingly apparent that Eight For Silver is not going to be your typical monster outing. Take everything you know about werewolves and throw all to the wayside. With the exception of a vulnerability to silver bullets, there is almost nothing here that can be traced back to the Boris Karloff or John Landis incarnations of this horror icon. Not only do Ellis’s furless fiends not care about what phase the moon is in, they also apparently have no qualms about picking you off in broad daylight. In fact, some of the film’s most hair-raising sequences happen well before the sun has fallen below the horizon. There is a reason that horror directors tend to shoot films that take place almost exclusively at night, but Ellis has never been one to shy away from a challenge. There truly is no rest for the wicked.
Much like Jennifer Kent’s 2019 Sundance film The Nightingale, the graphic violence in this film feels like it has been pumped up with just about every type of amphetamine known to man. The characters suffer everything from fractured and severed limbs to beasts gnawing at their throat and manage to do so with an unbelievable amount of poise. Their ability to stay calm and collected while being subjected to such excruciating pain would be comical if it weren’t so utterly horrific. Perhaps a world without proper anesthesia just breeds a stronger kind of human.
This film is also a wonderful example of how budgetary constraints can force directors to push the limits of both imagination and ingenuity, finding simple solutions for complex problems. It takes a lot of faith to trust that your director can open his horror film in the trenches of a WWI battle while at the same time bringing things in under budget. Through his use of selective angles and tactful editing, Ellis was able to bring his audience right there into the trenches, and did it without the bloated budget of Sam Mendes’s 1917.
This credo of “less is more” is one that works quite well throughout the majority of this film, and one of the reasons it plays so well. It is only once Ellis begins to trade out practical effects for the modern comforts of CGI that things really start to fall apart for this film. Many of the digital effects seemed out of place or unnecessary, and by the end, the compounding number of VFX shots became a detriment. This was most apparent in the film’s bloody third act climax among the pews of the village church. It was an exercise in visual excess that would have benefited greatly from the minimalist practicalities used in the beginning of the film.
Even so, Eight For Silver is still an extremely watchable horror film, and probably the best werewolf film since Brotherhood of the Wolf. It is an incredibly inventive new take on the werewolf mythos, and may do for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires back in the 1990s. Sean Ellis’s talent knows no bounds, and he has shown that he can shoot films in just about any genre, any language and any location. Not only that, but he can do it in a way that is both visually interesting as well as groundbreaking. If this guy doesn’t get snatched up for a Mandalorian episode or land a deal in heading one of MCU’s Phase 5 films, it would be an cinematic injustice of unparalleled proportions.