This review is part of our Sundance 2021 coverage.
The Pitch: When greedy land owner Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) massacres a group of Romani living peacefully on land he claims is his, a curse is unleashed upon him and the members of the nearby settlement. Everyone is haunted by vivid nightmares of the Romani blacksmith (Jicey Carina), who was tortured and turned into a scarecrow, as well as a box of buried silver teeth.
After local boy Timmy (Tommy Rodger) ill-advisedly digs up the treasure, Seamus’ young son Edward (Max Mackintosh) is infected and transformed into a hideous beast that attacks and kills the locals. This attracts the attention of pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), whose own tragic history makes him the natural choice to hunt the beast and prevent the curse from spreading.
Frustrating Flashback: Eight for Silver opens in the trenches of WW1 with the death of a soldier named Edward Laurent. A silver bullet is dug out of his corpse that is unrelated to the war, but then the action cuts to his sister inheriting said bullet and the title appears: “keeper of the silver.”
It’s understandable why writer/director Sean Ellis opens the film with such an intriguing hook. Yet when Eight for Silver flashes back 35 years to explain the bullet’s origin, its ties to a Romani curse, and the series of “mysterious” werewolf attacks, the poor screenwriting decision becomes evident.
When Edward is bitten and disappears, it’s clear to audiences what he has become. But Eight for Silver drags the confirmation out, then resolutely pretends its opening didn’t spoil the outcome. As the film progresses, this flashback framing device only becomes more infuriating as the film reaches its two-hours-in-the-making climax and yet is still attempting to mine tension about what will happen.
Spoiler alert: There is no tension. Thanks to those opening scenes, the audience already knows the outcome.
Romani As Other: As a period piece that includes Romani people, it is inevitable that Eight for Silver uses problematic language. Sadly, there is no interest in depicting the Romani as actual characters. Despite depicting Seamus as a clear villain for his genocidal actions, the Romani are still presented as scary with their sole narrative purpose to inflict suffering on the rich white landowners. At no point, though, is there is penance for these slaughtered individuals or an attempt to understand their plight. Instead, Eight for Silver is too busy fretting about the survival of its white heroine and her children to care about its POC characters.
Drawn Out Pacing: Eight for Silver’s other major flaw is its drawn-out plot and shallow characterizations. Casting Boyd Holbrook, a human charisma vacuum, doesn’t do the film any favors, but there’s nothing for him or any of the other characters, including the luminous Kelly Reilly to work alongside. These are stock characters who exist solely to speak in hushed tones about their missing son, while Ellis’ screenplay stubbornly refuses to move the narrative along.
It takes Eight for Silver far too long to acknowledge that there is a werewolf problem, and then even longer for the body count to truly begin. There are also far too many nightmare sequences about the Romani blacksmith: first Charlotte Laurent (Amelia Crouch) has one, then Edward, then finally McBride (twice!). This plodding denial of actual narrative development in favor of rote nightmares with cheap jump scares continually delays Eight for Silver from achieving its sweet spot: the gory animal attacks its audiences is patiently waiting around for.
Wolf Design: Ellis’ eye for period detail and crafting atmosphere are fantastic. The look and feel of the film is sublime, especially the mist-shrouded fields, the threatening woods, and the muted color scheme. Eight for Silver is not as heavily stylized as Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, per se, but it has a similar gothic, Puritanical vibe (albeit sans the humor).
This prim aesthetic is a perfect contrast to the ultra graphic and gory attack scenes. When the townspeople are bitten, they are mauled, and Ellis isn’t shy about lingering over the bloody, broken and chomped upon remains. He’s also not afraid to color outside of the box of conventional werewolf designs, namely the treatment of the initial transformation.
Rather than compete with classics of the subgenre like An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, Eight for Silver adopts a mutated tendril creature design. This immediately sets the film apart from other werewolf films, particularly in its two stand-out scenes: an underwater transformation and an otherworldly autopsy that evokes Carpenter’s The Thing in all the right ways.
Sadly, these moments of body horror are too infrequent. Each time Eight for Silver fleetingly delivers the gore, only to return to the Laurents and McBride, we are reminded of how tepid and uninteresting the human drama is.
The Verdict: Eight for Silver works best as an atmospheric period werewolf film with outstanding gore effects and creature design. Working against the film, however, is Ellis’ padded screenplay chock full of rote characters, drawn-out human conflict, and an ill-advised flashback structure that rips apart its final act. In the end, Eight for Silver needed more werewolves and less Holbrook.