Writer: Daryl Hemmerich
Producer: Daryl Hemmerich
Cast: Sheryl Chambers, Danielle De Luca, Christina Rosenberg
Year of release: 2009
Reviewed from: VOD
Wolfpeople is a not-quite-feature-length horror film which starts out mediocre and gets progressively worse. It is also almost entirely devoid of any horror until right at the end. Despite that, it’s not completely terrible. I mean, it’s a long way from good but it’s not a shouter. I didn’t yell anything at the screen while watching it. Which must count for something.
Three young white couples head off for a week’s holiday in a massive RV - and further description of these ‘characters’ I could not give you. They drink beer, they smooch, they joke around - but they are entirely devoid of any actual identifiable characteristics. Which of course renders them indistinguishable from one another. Not since Army of the Dead have I seen a film with less characterisation. One of the guys has longer hair than the other two and one of them wears a hat. That’s it. In all other respects they look, dress, speak and behave alike. As for the three young blonde women in mini-skirts, they’re like triplets.
If you were to show me photographs of these six characters stuck to playing cards, I could not match them up into couples, despite having spent an hour watching them last night. Frankly, I couldn’t have done it immediately after watching the film. Heck, I couldn’t have done it during the film. It is in fact quite possible that the three couples switched partners throughout the picture, or that the actors swapped roles every other scene. I wouldn’t have noticed. There is literally no way at all to distinguish these characters.
You know what? This was the film that finally made me realise why Hollywood invented the concept of the Token Black Guy.
Despite constantly knocking back cans of cold beer, they are apparently not old enough to drink since there is talk of someone having forgotten his fake ID. So they obtain booze supplies at a gas station by having the three bimbos act as prickteases to distract the befuddled lone employee while the guys steal boxes of beer. Which now I come to think of it means that these people do have some characteristics, albeit shared between the whole sextet. They are dishonest and cruel, as well as shallow and vacuous.
Are we meant to like these people? Presumably so but really the few things we know about them show them up as unpleasant pricks. Why should we sympathise with them in any way? I guess it’s a good thing that they have no characterisation as that would make them more like real people we could genuinely hate, whereas they are currently just cardboard cut-outs that we don’t care about.
They are on their way to spend a week in a rented house in the middle of nowhere (raising the question of why they borrowed this massive RV if they are not planning to stay in it). On the road, they meet a young woman named Maya with long, dark hair who is meant to be Native American but frankly looks no less Caucasian than anyone else. The scene when these three pretty-boys and their bimbos decamp from the RV and start talking awkwardly to a random female stranger – “What’s your name?” “So, do you live round here?” “I like your hair.” – is straight out of a thousand porno flicks, which I might have considered an intentional lampoon of such things if there was any other evidence of imagination in this sorry affair. NB. There is no nudity in Wolfpeople and no lesbianism although all four actresses do later put on tiny string bikinis for a hot tub scene.
For no apparent reason, they invite Maya to accompany them on their vacation and for no apparent reason she agrees, despite having neither a change of clothes nor any toiletries, and despite being a very obvious gooseberry. It is Maya who raises the local legend of ‘wolfpeople’ who lived in harmony with the Native Americans until the white men came yada yada. Later they stop at a diner where they order seven specials and two pitchers of beer (without having to show ID). Maya introduces the gang to a friend of hers and also to the friend’s boyfriend/husband, the local sheriff. They too talk of wolfpeople and so the out-of-towners leave their specials half-eaten and their pitchers half-drunk and get back on the RV because this diner is just too ‘weird’.
Except it’s not. It’s not even vaguely threatening or odd, not the building nor the clientele. Nor is the house which they eventually reach anywhere near as ‘creepy’ as they constantly say it is. It is also, from all the evidence we have, not in the middle of nowhere. On the road the RV has passed lots of residential and commercial properties, including a shop where one of the guys purchases a full-head werewolf mask for 20 bucks. Later, at the house, he puts this on and leaps out to frighten the girls, one of numerous non-scary ‘scares’ throughout the film where one or other of these brain-donors jumps and shouts at one of the others to predictably unhilarious results. When they reach the house the lights aren’t working, creating further opportunities for such pranks.
Then there is a whole load of sitting around drinking, then the three guys play poker while the bikini-clad bimbettes wait impatiently, then they all get in the hot tub, then everyone except one couple get out of the hot tub, all the while drinking crappy American beer (which, as we all know, is remarkably like making love in a canoe). This is all really boring and it is only in the last ten minutes or so that the wolfpeople attack.
We have caught some glimpses of these wolfpeople earlier on, peering from between the trees. Let me describe them to you. They scamper around on all fours wearing full-body brown fur costumes, topped with werewolf masks which appear to be from the same shop as the one bought earlier. They put me in mind of Ed Naha’s description of the cut-price magical lion in Wizards of the Lost Kingdom: “like Nana the dog in a bad production of Peter Pan, the kind of production where you see a play and get a sandwich.” Eventually, for no apparent reason, these things attack one of the house-mates and I will grudgingly give credit to director Daryl Hemmerich for the way he handles this, using fast cutting and low light to ensure we never get a good look at the thing (with its immovable plastic jaws) while still conveying the impression of a savage, bloody attack by a wild animal.
Then they attack another person, then another. Only at this point do the other four realise that three of their friends are dead but, being idiots, instead of calling for help or barricading themselves in the house, they set out into the remarkably well-lit woods armed with nothing except mop handles and kitchen knives, whereupon they too are slaughtered one by one in quick succession. Except Maya who is spared because she is wearing a 200-year-old necklace that her mother gave her. Points to note no.1: The necklace looks a lot less than 200 years old. Points to note no.2: Since Maya had already gone to bed at this point, either she was sleeping in the necklace or she put it on when she ran downstairs to see what all the screaming was about.
Camp Blood idea of being nominally ‘remote’ without actually being very far away from stuff. Also, if everyone was killed (except Maya, seen still wandering in the forest) who made that call?
Wolfpeople is tosh from start to finish. It’s technically competent for the most part except for (a) the fact that most scenes in the RV ‘on the move’ were clearly filmed in a stationary vehicle, and (b) one exterior scene where the dialogue is almost inaudible, which desperately needed a spot of ADR. But Hemmerich knows how to frame a scene and he keeps the boom out of shot, and DP Justin Miller is able to cope well with some low light levels.
But what really raises this above the level of terrible is the acting which is way, way better than one would expect in something like this. While most of the supporting cast are so wooden that they must surely be the director’s friends, for the leads he chose some busy young professional actors. None of them are able to make anything out of the bland, featureless non-characters they’re given, but each individual line is delivered with conviction. These are jobbing actors with surprisingly extensive IMDB listings, mostly made of small parts in big films or big parts in small films.
Wolfpeople was shot in early 2006 in North Idaho on a budget of $30,000. According to press reports, Hemmerich fell out with the owners of a local business called Wolf People whose signage he wanted to feature in the movie. Wolf People is a vulpine rehabilitation centre, a wolf sanctuary which works to dispell myths and prejudices about the animal so they didn’t want to be associated with a film which presented wolves as monsters. Although of course these aren’t wolves, they’re ‘wolf people’ who look like Muppets with teeth. By the time the film was self-released by Hemmerich’s Northwest Picture Company in 2009, the director claimed that the title was derived from the ‘wolf people’ of Mexico and their genetic superhairiness disorder but that argument doesn’t really stand up given that the film is explicitly set in the obscure community of Cocollala, where the Wolf People sanctuary is based. Of course, another reason they might not want to be associated with the movie is because it’s pretty bad.
MJS rating C-