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Wolf Garden (2023) Review

William, played by Wayne David (Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, Nurse), who also wrote and directed Wolf Garden, lives alone in a cottage somewhere in the British countryside. At first, this is hard to tell as the film slides between the present, the past, and what may be hallucinations or visions. Once the viewer can sort out which is which we realize that as well as being alone, he’s in hiding, the local paper referring to him and his girlfriend Chantelle (Sian Altman, The Rise of the Beast, H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Portal) as missing.

In the past, we see the two of them together, apparently over several visits to the cottage. These are mostly happy scenes, although that seems to have been brought to an end by some sort of violent incident. And it’s her presence that visits him in his hallucinations, some of which can be hard to tell from his memories. Or maybe they’re false memories and the product of his mind as well.

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The script slowly teases out clues to help us solve the puzzle of just what is going on. We see him sliding food dishes under the door of a locked shed and hear something barking and snarling inside. A call from a friend tells us William feels guilt about something as he repeatedly asks “Do you blame me?”.

Combined with the moody cinematography of Ariel Artur (2.0 Lucy, The Darkness) and the score by Rupert Uzzell (Halloween Jack 3D, Café Mirage) this makes for an atmospheric slow burn of a first act. The only problem is, a lot of viewers will be miles ahead of it. It doesn’t take a lot of familiarity with the genre to be able to figure out what happened and what’s in the shed well before the first traces of the beast are revealed.

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Eventually, a figure known only as The Visitor (Grant Masters, Dark Encounter, Await Further Instructions) appears. Like Jack in An American Werewolf in London, they claim to know what’s going on and what William knows but refuses to acknowledge. But we’re left unsure if he’s a spirit or a figment of William’s obviously troubled mind.

And despite some good, if briefly seen, effects and makeup by Nicholas Hurst (Life, Gangs of London) and David Foxley (Sniper Corpse, Werewolves of the Third Reich) Wolf Garden is primarily a psychological horror rooted in that troubled mind. It’s only in the last act that it becomes a monster movie, and even then much of it rests on his ability to force his mind to let him “do what needs to be done.”

All of this leaves Wolf Garden a rather confused and uneven film. The opening act has plenty of atmosphere and shows a good instinct for when to reveal details. Unfortunately, the overall plot is way too obvious for all but newcomers to the genre not to figure out. And once the beast is let loose, we still don’t see nearly enough of it. What we do see is impressive enough, I just wish the budget had allowed more of it.

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More problematic is the film’s ending, or maybe I should say endings. Without spoiling it I’ll just say it comes to what would be its logical end and despite being off-screen and done with sound the scene is very effective. But rather than leave it there, Wolf Garden goes on for about five more minutes to deliver a twist that isn’t a surprise and ends at what looks like the start of an entirely different kind of movie.

I’d still recommend giving Wolf Garden a look if it sounds like something you like. David has some good ideas and the film is full of atmosphere. It’s just too bad he couldn’t quite get it all to gel.

Gravitas Ventures will release Wolf Garden to Digital Platforms on February 28th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information. If you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can recommend a few titles.

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