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Monday, March 28, 2011

FILM REVIEW OF "BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE'' (2007)


Talk about a lackluster horror yarn! This pretentious supernatural saga got to the box office a year ahead of "Twilight," but it shares many narrative similarities. The girl in “Blood and Chocolate” (** OUT OF ****), is a werewolf rather than a vampire, but the guy is an ordinary human being. “Iron Jawed Angels” director Katja von Garnier states on the “Blood and Chocolate” DVD commentary track that she envisaged this tale of forbidden love as "‘Romeo and Juliet’ with wolves.” Moreover, she points out that she didn’t want to make a traditional horror movie. Instead, she refers to it as ‘an anti-horror movie.’ Although she dwells primarily on the romance, von Garnier and scenarists Ehren Kruger of "Reindeer Games" and Christopher B. Landon of "Another Day In Paradise" graph on just enough suspense and tension so that "Blood and Chocolate" qualifies as a quasi-horror film. The filmmakers divide their energies between two plots: first, a centuries old feud between man and wolf that has yielded an uneasy truce, and second, the reluctance of a 19-year old girl to adhere to the rules of wolf society. When the leader of the pack isn’t trying to recruit the heroine as his next mate, he has to worry about his rebellious son who has violated the rule that werewolves never hunt outside their pack. Clearly, this movie is all about breaking traditions, whether those traditions are cinematic or social. "Blood and Chocolate" amounts to a postmodern werewolf saga because the werewolves, referred to here as the ‘loup-garoux,’ resemble neither the standard Lon Chaney, Jr., Hollywood werewolf nor those of the "Underworld" franchise. The “Blood and Chocolate” werewolves are born werewolves, and the full moon doesn't dictate when they change their shape. Moreover, they are not man/wolf hybrids, and they cannot curse humans and turn them into werewolves when they take a chomp out of them.

The female protagonist, Vivian Gandillion (Angnes Bruckner of "Vacancy 2: The First Cut"), earns her living working in a bakery where she makes chocolate when she isn’t jogging aimlessly around the countryside. She discovers that she has been designated by destiny to be the next bride for the big bad wolf-pack leader Gabriel (Olivier Martinez of "Unfaithful"), in a ritual that is occurs every seven years. Currently, Gabriel is sharing his affections with Astrid (Katja Riemann of "My F├╝hrer"), and they are the parents of Rafe who is now fully grown up. Sometimes, the logic in the film seems flawed. Clearly, Rafe (Bryan Dick of "Master and Commander"), is a teenager on the verge of becoming a twenty something adult. After all, he frequents a bar with five of his wolf-pack friends. Anyway, Rafe is upset because Gabriel is about to leave his mother for a new woman. The filmmakers never clear up this narrative problem. Indeed, it looks like there is a shortage of female wolves. Further, it appears that Gabriel still hangs around Astrid, even though their seven year hitch must have elapsed at least seven years ago! We learn from one of Gabriel’s speeches to the wolf pack before they hunt a scumbag drug dealer, that the wolves once ruled the land. Five-thousand years later, time has not be kind to the wolves so they must share the land with humans who are willing to kill them.

The first scene establishes the feud between man and wolves as hunters with high-powered rifles kill Vivian's parents and sister in the woods of Colorado. They appear out of nowhere while Vivian and her sister are making snow angels in the snow and shoot them without warning. Miraculously, Vivian manages to escape and has gone to live in Bucharest, Romania, with her aunt Astrid. Man and wolf have maintained an uneasy truce in Bucharest, but Rafe threatens this peace when he kills a twenty-something gal that he encounters in a nightclub. Here again, the filmmakers aren’t particularly clear about Rafe’s motivations. Did he kill the young woman out of hatred? Or did he kill her because he couldn’t control himself? We are never told. Meantime, Vivian doesn't want to mate with Gabriel after Aiden Galvin (Hugh Dancy of "King Arthur") enters her life. She runs into Aiden in an old church that is a sanctuary for werewolves. She meets Aiden while he is conducting research for his latest graphic novel about wolves. Bucharest, it seems, is a very werewolf friendly city. Occasionally, the police work with Gabriel and his minions. Aiden impresses Vivian with his considerable knowledge about the legendary loup-garoux. Jokingly, he refers to her as the ‘wolf-girl,’ a nickname that she deplores. During a stroll through the city, he furnishes the necessary exposition that audiences need to know about these different kind of wolves.


While the filmmakers aren’t rewriting werewolf rules, they rewrite the 1997 erotic young adult novel by Annette Curtis Klause. The fans of the novel have been vocal in their strident objections to these revisions. Von Garnier and her scribes have transferred the setting from West Virginia to Romania. Mind you, the novel takes place entirely in the United States. Presumably, an American setting lacked the old world allure of a European setting. Surprisingly, the producers of the "Underworld" franchise had their paws in this bland creature feature, but "Blood and Chocolate" generates little of the excitement of the "Underworld" movies. The best scene is a showdown in a church between Aiden and Rafe who drools at the chance to kill Aiden. Rafe refers to Aiden at one point as the 'meat-boy.' Initially, jealous wolf-pack leader Gabriel only wanted Rafe to run Aiden out of town because he was interfering with his plans to mate with Vivian.

"Blood and Chocolate" exudes a lot of atmosphere, but little in the way of either suspense or chills. The scenes where the humans morph into wolves look ethereal but raise the age-old question about clothing. Do their apparel just magically vanish or is it absorbed? Unfortunately, von Garnier demonstrates minimal flair with the material. Not only is “Blood and Chocolate” a tame horror chiller, but it is also a lame love story. Production designer Kevin Phipps deserves praise for his authentic-looking sets. Indeed, all of the scenes with the real-life wolves were lensed on interior sets that look as if they were exterior sets. Brendan Galvin’s wide-screen cinematography is great to look at and Bucharest is a fabulous city. If you want to see "Blood and Chocolate" as it should have been done, then watch the much better as well as wittier “Ginger Snaps.”

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