Films don’t often come as ambitious, stylish or slightly overstuffed as Christophe Gans’s Brotherhood Of The Wolf, an ultra violent, primal period piece with roots in an obscure cryptozoological myth from 18th century France, and packing enough leather clad, blood dripping kinetic creativity to fuel a whole franchise. Less is more being the one thing Gans could have benefited from in order to truly make his film a classic, as there’s a few bits here and there that bog it down, but for the most part it’s a fearsome genre flick with class and bite. A monster is terrorizing rural France, mauling people and earning the dreaded moniker ‘Beast of Gevaudan’ (this was apparently a real thing back then, as Wikipedia will enthusiastically inform you). Soon roguish nomad huntsman Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his deadly native warrior sidekick Mani (martial arts guru Mark Dacascos) bluster into to town, ruffling a few feathers and setting their sights on taking the beast down for good. That’s the jumping point from which the story explores more ideas than it almost has time for, even in a two and a half hour span. Decadent French opulence, corruption in the ranks, feral forest dwelling cults, kinky brothel escapades, Matrix style action choreography, slasher elements, you name it and they’ve got it here. Most of it works, a few bits drag and land with a clunk. Much of the film is a darkly primeval wonder to behold, with striking imagery, highly disturbing gore and a sense of danger that hangs in the air like the most over this doomed portion of the European countryside. French superstar Vincent Cassel plays a mysterious nobleman, and Monica Bellucci is his secret harbouring, seductive sister as well, whose collective presence adds to the WTF factor later in the third act when the plot gets all out mental. The early scenes in the threatening village are terrific, as is an eventual confrontation deep in the forests where the monster’s origin (you’ll do a double take) is laid out, and one jarringly violent showdown takes place, with Dacascos taking more bodily trauma than most could imagine, and taking it like a champ. He also doles it out too, his extensive training strangely looking more at home when it’s out of place in a period horror piece than his usual super-cop shtick, especially in a rain soaked combat scene involving wooden poles and broken ribs. It works wonders as a creature flick, it’s solid as an actioner and the beautiful Sleepy Hollow-esque cinematography services both exceedingly well. Could have left a few of the languishing aristocratic and whorehouse sequences on the editing room floor, but it doesn’t hurt the film too much, and nothing can take away the mystic visual splendour and gnarly edge it has in the horror department. Truly one of a kind.