Sundance 2021: Eight for Silver – Movie Review

Eight for Silver belongs to the brand of movie that begins with an intriguing jolt yet slowly falls apart as it progresses. It’s gothic mood is felt from the first frame, as we open with a gruesome WWI prologue set in the trenches where a French officer’s life quickly sees its end, yet as the combat doctor removes the bullets from his body, he finds one that is decidedly not a German bullet. It’s actually a large, pointed slab of silver that is ultimately returned to his sister; then the dying man she takes it to informs her that she must now be the “keeper of the silver.”

As all this ground is set, we then jump back thirty-five years to the 19th-century, for yet another setup to unfold before the film eventually turns into a quasi-werewolf tale. But before that we find ourselves in a grand mansion somewhere in the French countryside, where vast grounds belong to the wealthy Laurent family. Living with his wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) and two children, Charlotte (Amelia Crouch) and young Edward (Max Mackintosh), ruthless patriarch Seamus (Alistar Petrie) terrorizes a Romanian group of travelers who have legitimate stakes on his land. They’re also the the harbingers of the silver, as we see a woman of the group melting down thirty silver coins into a full set of teeth. But as tensions peak between the two groups, Seamus orders the travelers to be brutally murdered. Yet as Seamus and his wealthy “elders” may have won the battle, the Romanian group definitely win the war.

That unforgivable act brings a curse onto Seamus’ family, land and, eventually, town. Children have nightmares about the gypsies’ burnt bodies being possessed by something that kills a local boy and makes Edward, bitten by a mysterious creature, vanish into thin air. When pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) shows up to investigate the town’s shocking happenings, the film finally finds some semblance of propulsion, with it being already thirty-minutes in. A lengthy setup is far from a bad thing; in fact, a lot of contemporary cinema has very much lost its sense of suggestiveness and patience. Yet what’s puzzling about Eight for Silver is that writer-director-cinematographer Sean Ellis falls short of developing much early on, or really ever. Horror is most effective when the graphic scares — and the practical effects here are quite strong — are matched with an emotional dimension, something which Ellis attempts but falls pancake flat.

Part of the problem is a lack of thematic direction for its take on the werewolf legend. Ellis shows moments of knowing atmosphere — clammy, foggy fields, especially — yet his attempts at trying to find some of the class roots within the classic tales of the beast are barely grazed, feeling vague to the point of hardly existing. Ellis also doesn’t really show any sense of restraint in regards to staging his terror, sloppily putting together more than a handful(!) of woefully trite and unintentionally goofy nightmare sequences that rely on tacky ploys of jump scares.

It’s also not too far (about the halfway mark) that we’re revealed the monster, and it does not even come close to hitting its mark. It’s a sleek fully-CG beast that’s shown in full too much and too often; the look and feel of the creature is fully contemporary and the visual effects look genuinely unfinished; being far too rubbery in its smooth slickness. (For a movie that beautifully uses practical effects elsewhere, it’s completely disheartening to see a practical monster nowhere to be found.) The construction of the narrative — what we learn from the prologue, and the direction it takes in the third act — also brings on an unfortunate side effect. We know, by the ninety-minute mark, everything that will follow, aside from the inevitable bloodbath of a climax, which features a story beat that’s stuttering in its empty silliness, especially since its played straight. Yet it’s by that point, where all momentum is gone. Even with the raw materials there, the movie still can’t fully sink its teeth into you. Eight for Silver begins as a tease of gothic potential, yet it quickly runs out of steam; shifting its reliance onto stiff, cheap jump scares and sluggish, hacky tropes.

Grade: C-

Eight for Silver premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It’s currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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