REVIEW: Gay Fairytale "Wolves of Kromer" Has Diverting Bite
by Mark Holcomb
(indieWIRE/ 10.20.00) --I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Will Gould's "The Wolves of Kromer" (opening today from First Run Features at San Francisco's Lumiere Theater) is the best film adapted from a former economist's dissertation about gay werewolves to be released this year. (Try arguing that around the water cooler.) In any case, Gould's feature debut is a lively, featherweight mock fairy tale that gently probes the fear and mistrust surrounding male homosexuality in polite English society.
Based on a play (and, inexplicably, a PhD. thesis) by screenwriter and one-time number cruncher Charles Lambert, this festival crowd-pleaser concerns a pair of young, itinerant "wolves" -- the experienced Gabriel (James Layton) and wet-behind-the-ears Seth (Lee Williams) -- who prowl the outskirts of tiny Kromer, dine on the occasional sheep, and make the townspeople very nervous. It isn't so much the feeding habits of this foppish duo that keep the locals up at night -- particularly the suspiciously wolf-averse Father David (Kevin Moore) -- but the fact that they openly and unabashedly fancy one another. As self-righteous as the villagers are on this matter, however, they miss the truly insidious goings-on in town: two predatory domestic servants, Fanny (Rita Davies) and Doreen (Margaret Towner), are slowly poisoning their mistress Mrs. Drax (Rosemary Dunham) in order to inherit her fortune.
When Mrs. Drax's family is summoned to her supposed deathbed from the city, Fanny and Doreen put their plot on hold. As they busy themselves devising a Plan B, Seth breaks up with Gabriel over an infidelity. Mrs. Drax's grandson Kester (Matthew Dean), meanwhile, argues against Father David's fervent anti-wolf campaign while his sister, Polly (Leila Lloyd-Evelyn), seduces the temporarily defanged Seth; Gabriel sulks at an overnight wolf beach party scored to a throbbing disco beat.
Fanny hits upon the idea to blame Mrs. Drax's malady on the "diseased" wolves, which sends the Kromerians into the countryside after the still estranged Gabriel and Seth. The stock angry mob introduces horror film iconography into the fairy-tale mix perhaps a tad too late, and Laura Remacha's pragmatic cinematography fails to evoke the rich hues of the '60s Hammer films "Wolves" most clearly mimics. "Wolves" concludes with a literally heavenly postscript set to the strains of "Spirit in the Sky" (a song that's fast becoming the most overused '70s kitsch cue in movie history).
Though strikingly original in concept, "The Wolves of Kromer" is a decidedly hit and miss affair. Despite generally good performances from newcomers Layton and the promising Williams, as well as veterans like Davies (who bears an unnerving -- though not inappropriate -- resemblance to Boris Karloff), newcomer Gould can't overcome a flatness of tone. He's more successful at translating Lambert's crude, deliciously wicked sense of humor into uproarious visuals; the wolves, for instance, are a grungy bunch, clad in full-length fur coats complete with tails. Gould also manages to imbue even the overtly evil Fanny and Father David with warmth and sympathy, which is no small feat considering Lambert's simplistic way with characterization.
As queer cinema, "Wolves" is an imaginative step or two above the sitcom drivel that typically floods stateside festivals. Yet its central metaphor -- gay men as an ostracized, misunderstood separate "species" -- is shaky at best. Real wolves, after all, are equal-opportunity predators: they'll eat practically anything. This inevitably calls to mind the empty-headed belief that gay men actively prey on the defenseless and uninitiated, a notion that Lambert seems intent on dispelling (and one that's almost carried out in the film when pre-teen Kester, who at first defends the wolves, has a change of heart after being menaced by Gabriel). Lambert's metaphor is even more seriously weakened by virtue of the fact that the only sex we see or hear in the film takes place between Polly and Seth; the occasional snogging between the two men is furtive, passionless, and usually shown in long-shot. As a result, "The Wolves of Kromer" seems at times like a curiously non-gay gay movie.
With its haphazardly executed philosophical underpinnings, "The Wolves of Kromer" never quite gels as allegory; its Deep Thoughts are simply not well developed enough to carry the film. But this in no way stops the fun: its easy charm and estimable humanism make "Wolves" a pleasingly diverting fairy tale -- albeit one with bite.
[Mark Holcomb is a freelance writer living in New York.]