Why does every werewolf movie have to be so similar? Is there a law that states the creature only comes out during a full moon, must be super hairy, and can only be killed by silver bullets? Of course not. And Eight for Silver, the new film by writer-director Sean Ellis, purposefully throws most of that out the window. It’s an attempt to tell a brand new werewolf story, one that’s set in the past, is delightfully disgusting, and even tries to tug at your heartstrings.
Premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Eight for Silver stars Boyd Holbrook (Logan, The Predator) as John McBride, a pathologist in the late 19th century. John has a sad past and is trying to make sense of it by exploring strange stories. Stories about travelling groups of people and an evil curse. Eventually, he tracks those rumours to a town where a young man has gone missing after his father (Alistair Petrie) ordered some horrific acts against, you guessed it, a travelling community of Romani people.
The best things about Eight for Silver are the ways it tries to reinvent werewolf mythology. Obviously, silver is still involved (hence the title) but most of the other tropes have been removed or reimagined. At first, that gives the story a fresh feel because we aren’t predisposed to know exactly how it’s all going to unfold. You’re creeped out and almost shocked by the changes. On the other hand, many of the new rules and twists Ellis uses all seem rather familiar — not from werewolf movies but from supernatural slasher movies, zombie movies, creature features, and more. The mix is unique but pretty much everything about it can be traced back to something else. At first, this was a little disappointing, but you have to realise almost nothing is truly new anymore, and a remix can be just as good as something totally original, right? That’s what Eight for Silver is: a werewolf movie remixed with other horror conventions.
Strong performances from Petrie (Rogue One) and Kelly Reilly (True Detective), as well as the slow discovery of John’s link to the werewolf mythology, ground the film and create a nice contrast to the horror. There’s also an emotional, effective bookend to the film that recontextualises everything else. Ellis starts Eight for Silver in a different time period and lets the main story catch up to the knowledge we learn in that first scene. As a result, while we sort of know where things are going, their sheer improbability adds a little dash of mystery and heart to the film.
The commitment to the time period also helps set it all apart. The costumes, the sets, the cinematography (which is driven by candlelight and smoke) all feel authentic and purposeful. The pacing adds to that too. Things didn’t move fast in the late 1800s and neither do they in Eight for Silver. However, it can be a tad constrictive to the film’s momentum, especially in the first act, but things pick up by the end.
Mostly that’s because Eight for Silver has truly gruesome, delightful bits peppered throughout the film. One in particular, which we’ll just call “the autopsy,” is gag-inducing in the best possible way. You can almost smell the scene coming off the screen — it’s excellent, if you’re into that sort of thing. Lots of other creature attacks and effects match that too, giving what seems like it could be a snooty period piece a nice dash of horror gore that’s not for the faint of heart. All of these things mix together for an alchemy that really works; there are moments of frustration, moments of boredom, but it does the job. At the end, you’ll probably have wanted a bit more from Eight For Silver because it never quite coalesces into the grand film it wants to be. But the blueprints of that are there.
No, Eight for Silver is not a radical reinvention of the werewolf story. And no, it’s not a slam-bang adrenaline rush of a monster movie. It could have used a bit more of that part, in fact — but in the end, what it does well, it does very well. You’re connected to the characters, to the story, and the period setting makes the gore that much more shocking.
Eight for Silver had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It does not yet have distribution.