The Company of Wolves ★★★★

The sophomore feature for director Neil Jordan, whose future forays into horror would generate some wonderful vampire films in Interview with the Vampire and Byzantium, showcased his penchant for blending myth and fairy tale with horror from the very beginning. There is a deliciously dark atmosphere to the film, a layered series of cautionary tales and nesting dreams, that one could consider a sort of anthology due to its structure. It reminded me of the recent Tale of Tales and the two would make a great double feature together.

The film stars a young Sarah Patterson, who shines as the strong willed girl at the heart of the story, playing a take on Red Riding Hood. It seems that she chose to step away from acting after only one more fairy tale based feature after this one, which seems a shame as she seemed very charismatic and likeable. Her most notable counterpart in the cast, which is rather sprawling due to the different stories, is Angela Lansbury as the Granny in the primary story arc. Lansbury as offered the role directly, to no surprise given her talent and history in the industry, and is delightfully strong and sassy as Patterson's mentor and caretaker. The other assorted cast are all enjoyable, with just a few erring on the campier side, though it's mostly well suited to the nature of the film.

The score, composed by George Fenton (hot off a shared Oscar nomination for Gandhi) is fantastic, drifting between childlike dreaminess and dark, moody tones. The lush, swelling orchestration is perfectly suited to the fantastical set pieces, while dense organ pieces capture the unease of the more threatening dreams. Every dream and story sequence has wonderfully crafted sound, capturing the spirit of the tale perfectly.

Visually, the film is also quite wonderful. The studio sets are classic, foggy and dense with mysterious atmosphere. The way that elements of the outside narrative creep into the dream sequences, little clues to its nature, are eerie and delightful. The costume and makeup work is also great, with some savage and bloody transformation sequences. The practical effects are both a shining point and a bit of a fault for the film; as some of these effects are fantastic and striking, while a few are not so convincing and border on being a bit cheesy for the tale (like the obvious dummy head flailing it's foot long rubber tongue around). What it does right though mostly makes up for it, as the first and final transformation sequences are simply amazing. Also a shout out to the way the numerous dogs were used in the film, creating some lovely scenes; the way their gleaming eyes were captured on the dark sets is incredibly striking.

There are a few slow points to the film, and I can see the structure being confusing or frustrating for some viewers, as the stories can cut into each other and the framing device of the girl dreaming is a bit rough; particularly the very abrupt and surreal ending. I enjoyed it, but I do think it could've been structured a bit more tightly overall. The morals of the story, generally leaning into the "lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty" thing, which wasn't as overused a concept then, might feel tired for modern viewers coming at this for the first time (though I hope they can put themselves in the mindset to appreciate it). I found the film to be very enjoyable and could see it becoming a favorite to revisit.

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