Eight for Silver somehow manages to be two irreconcilable things simultaneously: a thorough re-imagining of the werewolf movie that's also the most traditional, formulaic werewolf movie in years and years. At the level of plot, it's completely straightforward and without any significant surprises or twists: a haughty landowner in either England, France, or Ireland (his name is Seamus Laurent, which feels linguistically improbable, and he's played by Yorkshire-born Alistair Petrie), in his haughtiness, orders a raid to flush out the Romani camp that occupies the land he believes out to belong to him, and in the bloodbath that follows, he receives a curse in the form of a strange set of canine jaws, cast out of silver. Shortly thereafter, all the children of the local community, including Seamus's son Edward (Max Mackintosh) gravitate towards the grisly scarecrow that Seamus has erected as a sign of his dominance, find the jaws, and pretty soon the biting starts. And then the entirety of the Laurent household is all in an uproar as various strange doings seem to keep happening, with bloody deaths and horribly contorted human corpses that appear to be transmuted into some kind of animal. And so they start to go on the offensive, though not very well.

There's nothing really surprising or shocking about any of this; the basics are as old as werewolf cinema itself, though some of the details are new. The surprises and shocks... well, there aren't any, really, but such as they are, they come in the form of the tone that director Sean Ellis applies, and the attention paid to the period trappings. Eight for Silver is, in effect, a werewolf prestige costume drama - a prestige costume drama on a tight budget, sure, but the mildly stuffy primness that the phrase "costume drama" stirs up is all present and accounted for. At least initially, I found this extraordinarily diverting. It is, at the very least, weird as hell to see these two worlds collide; the closest analogue I can come up with are the Hammer Films Gothic horror movies of the '60s, and those still have a kind of leering cheesiness that Eight for Silver steadfastly avoids. Even when the film is most aggressively playing the part of an exploitation picture - and it does indeed have some pretty fine gore, including an autopsy scene that feels like it represents a pretty sizable percentage of the film's effects budget - it does so with a very subdued, serious air. Yes, that's the word, serious - this is a werewolf film that takes itself very seriously.

Too seriously, perhaps, when all is said and done. It is, after all, still a fairly goofy horror movie, and it gets all the goofier when we actually see the werewolf, which to its credit, is not the traditional "vaguely like a Pomeranian" man-ape, nor the "basically Anubis" model of some more recent werewolf cinema. Indeed, for all that I keep using the word "werewolf", that's not really what we're dealing with at all: Eight for Silver presents its werewolves as these fleshy Gollum-like things that look a bit like hairless hyenas. And they are played by some awfully regrettable CGI, that makes them look like an undistinguished Resident Evil cannon-fodder baddie. Ellis gets some good moments with these creatures - the film's very best scene involves almost seeing one of them around some bedsheets whipping around in the wind on clotheslines - but eventually the film has to give up and let us see them clearly. And boy, does it ever give up.

Even setting aside the regrettable werebeasts, Eight for Silver would still have tonal issues; being solemn and stately is a bad match for the business of doing scares, especially the standard-issue scares we see here (e.g. a jump scare grey zombie-like things burst into someone's field of view and that someone jolts awake from a bad dream, with a musical sting - this happens multiple times, when even once is a silly cliché). And the film makes one catastrophically bad storytelling decision, opening in the trenches of the First World War, to show the grown-up Edward (Alun Raglan) dying in combat, which sets up his adopted guardian, John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), to very sorrowfully inform Edward's sister Charlotte (Annabel Mullion) that she is now the keeper of the silver bullets that are the trio's legacy from Those Days (cue Those Days for the next 105 minutes). This does give us one pretty fantastic scene transition, a fluid cut that leaps backwards by 30-odd years, but it also, rather more critically, gives away far too much of the plot, right up to some of its very last scenes. Especially given that "is Edward still alive?" is the bulk of the film's narrative engine for its long middle (very long - Eight For Silver has no reason to be this close to two hours)

Still, enough here works enough that, as a bitter die-hard who desperately wants all werewolf movies to work even though they're the movie monster that's hardest to do well, I was satisfied. The film's atmosphere is really quite beyond reproach; the sullen, heavily overcast landscape oozes menacing horror movie thickness, and there's enough violence early on to leave the film with the feeling that something horrible could break out at any moment. I'm also a fan of its somewhat diffuse approach to building its narrative: this is a film really without a main character or even any particular focal points (McBride would seem to be the natural pick for that job, and Holbrook gives the most comfortably lived-in performance out of the whole cast, but he is on the margins of the plot until pretty far into the running time), just a sense of collective confusion and instinctive panic. Whether this works is probably a matter of individual taste - I have certainly seen complaints that it doesn't - but it does work nicely with the film's "adaptation of a 19th Century novel vibe" that it feels more like a community under attack than any particular individuals.  The film is much less effective than it probably could have been, but just enough of it works that a sufficiently generous horror buff can extract something out of the experience.

For more on the film, check out Rob and Carrie's interview with Boyd Holbrook, Alistair Petrie, and Sean Ellis!