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Sundance 2021 Review: 'Eight For Silver' howls with period appeal but lacks bite

Sean Ellis' 'Eight For Silver' is an 1800s werewolf redressing that takes some ambitious swings but overstays its era-specific welcome.

The town hunts for whatever is plaguing their town in 'Eight for Silver.'
(Image: © Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

Our Verdict

'Eight For Silver' bites into a divergent werewolf concept that successfully adapts gorgeous period architectures, but slumps into generics as the overlong movie becomes too long in the tooth.

For

  • 🐺 A new werewolf beginning.
  • 🐺 Superlative production design.
  • 🐺 The Boyd Holbrook we deserve.

Against

  • 🐺 Weak creature effects (not practical).
  • 🐺 Unsustainably long.
  • 🐺 Defined by its leftover potential.

Eight for Silver is part of our Sundance Film Festival 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Much to this werewolf enthusiast’s dismay, Eight for Silver is an untamed experience that snuffs a wicked-awesome synopsis of potential. An 1800s shapeshifter mystery with a Werewolf Van Helsing, Romani curses, and promised mutilation that befits a ferocious creature tale? Everything Matt Donato thumbs through festival programs seeking out like neon signage. So why the sour tone? Maybe the laughingstock first impression of writer and director Sean Ellis’ scampering beast, perhaps an exhausting duration (nearly two hours) that becomes drier by the sequence? Immense showings of originality are nothing but an early tease before another film's entire running length limps to the finish line.

We’re introduced to land baron Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie), a prominent local figurehead who orders the slaughter of squatting Roma settlers. A curse befalls the children of Seamus’ town, as nightmares about haggard ghouls drive sons and daughters to discover a ritual-etched, silver-fanged mouthpiece. Seamus’ kin Edward goes missing not long after, which distresses wife and mother Isabelle (Kelly Reilly). Pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives on request to evaluate the case, which he believes to be of supernatural importance. Reports of animal attacks foster fear amongst Seamus’ territory, so he relies on John’s expertise to safely return Edward and vanquish the boogeyman responsible for a mounting death toll.

Ellis’ 19th-century landscapes and period-appropriate aesthetic are a triumph. Costumes are elegant, from corsets to gallon-hats, while details like amber torches that illuminate maggot-festered corpses transport viewers into bygone sophistication now used as an extravagant chew toy. Eight for Silver embraces Hammer Horror vibes within a Jane Eyre universe from candelabras to horse-drawn carriages to granite houses of worship. Meticulous details are remarkably considered, creating more dangers due to a lack of technical advances that even assesses the cultural genocide felt by clans like Romanis who dared reclaim borders stolen by European settlers. The stage is ready for a most ravishing and musket-loaded werewolf howler.

In doses, Eight for Sliver delivers what genre fans crave. Boyd Holbrook steps into one of my favorite Holbrook roles in recent memory as the tracker, trapper, and curer of werewolf curses. Bloodlust is extravagant when transitioned ex-humans leave arms dangling on tendons after a run-by swipe or splatter neck juices after chomping a big-ol’ snacky bite. Even better, Seamus’ bigoted violence produces an immediate scarecrow symbol that turns into Bagul’s second cousin as it haunts traumatizing dreamlands with Slender-horrific results. These pieces build a better werewolf puzzler, one that writes its own mythos exposed during an autopsy where one of the community’s victims appears from an unexpected heap of expired organs. Ideas are fresh, not rotten like the mangled bodily harm depicted on screen.

Unfortunately, these ideas are rarely realized beyond their basest stages and fall too predictably upon the essence of timeline accentuation. Worse still, the juxtaposition between animated SFX and practical cadaverousness stands out like Waldo in an empty desert. Brace yourselves for beastly glimpses that wouldn’t suffice Playstation 3 graphics, and whenever cinematography flips to “Monster Mode” first-person, bars of blurry light exposure blind the visual window into another massacre. Viciousness exists, but when you’re too busy giggling at the hairless “werewolf” that resembles more primally vampiric I Am Legend depictions or cave beasts like in The Descent, rendered quire garishly, problems doth persist. Imagine even Universal’s Dark Universe baddies (the ones who hit theaters) having a chuckle at these superimposed fleshwalker freaks, which should paint quite the unfortunate picture.

Furthermore, Eight for Silver is entirely too much movie without the sustainability to venture onward. It’s transformatively gorgeous to behold (excluding Lycan-adjacent transformations) yet underserves the grander subversions of werewolf lore by introducing tendrils and encasings versus metamorphoses where spines arch and ears perk upwards. One by one, all the usual dominoes fall, eventually jettisoning invigoration established in earlier hunting escapades. Holbrook’s assessor of immoral men and wager of underworld combat is forever a beacon of promise, unlike characters like Seamus and Isabelle. Two arcs wrapped in two unthoughtfully opposite ways by a film that blusters out of steam during its finishing blows. 

Not to mention how Ellis introduces his movie by revealing important information regarding the script's backend, because how better to say “Hello” than spoil tidbits of your climax?

Eight for Silver is a historically reverent monster mash that should have me still making ga-ga eyes. Instead, Sean Ellis jockeys his narrative ragged until those alluring notes of bloodshed and reinvention dull their out-of-the-package shine. Once more, allow me to champion Boyd Holbrook in more assertively British genre productions, especially ones that radiate Hammer Horror’s gothic grimness. Otherwise, I’m left disappointingly cold on a Sundance frightener offering that is but a pup’s yip at the moon instead of the subgenre’s usual, guttural outcry.