EIGHT FOR SILVER – SUNDANCE 2021 REVIEW

Synopsis: In the late nineteenth century, brutal land baron Seamus Laurent slaughters a Roma clan, unleashing a curse on his family and village. In the days that follow, the townspeople are plagued by nightmares, Seamus’s son Edward goes missing, and a boy is found murdered. The locals suspect a wild animal, but visiting pathologist John McBride warns of a more sinister presence lurking in the woods.

Several genre festival films imply the pretense of schlocky entertainment before dancing towards an empty artiness. While some of those efforts work with masterful composure, its the noticeable misses that often leave me craving some guilty-pleasure amusement. Thankfully, Sean Ellis’ remarkably unpretentious creature feature Eight for Silver dresses up its familiar devices with intelligence and buckets of bloodshed.

The key to Ellis’ success is not buying in on the inherent goofiness. A series of shocking battle sequences open the film with a lingering coldness while thoughtfully evoking human’s shameless propensity for violence and domination. Ellis shoots these period frames with an illustrious poise, composing his dimly-lit shots with a foreboding sense of atmosphere (a steady, one-take moment in Roma conveys the weight of its violent actions). The pervasive mood makes a sturdy-enough center for Ellis to indulge in werewolf carnage.

Eight for Silver’s shameless genre elements may not be for everyone. Most will appreciate Ellis’ favoring of practical effects and shocking imagery, but some will be displeased by the wonky CGI-effects bringing his creatures to life. For me, each production element comes with a certain makeshift earnestness, as Ellis and company push their tight budgetary constraints to their absolute limits. A balanced mixture of atmosphere and grizzly images keeps audiences on their toes throughout the effectively gothic experience.

I had a blast throughout Silver’s tense runtime, although I can’t ignore a few troubling misgivings. Ellis’ concentration on style over substance can leave audiences with a somewhat inconsistent experience. The buttoned-up narrative is propped-up by a talented cast (Boyd Holbrook has presence as an expert on mythical beasts), but I do wish the few promising subplots presented a more heightened dynamics (Boyd’s role as a makeshift father figure feels unearned).

After sitting through a bevy of weighty art films, Eight for Silver’s straight-forward embrace of macabre moments felt like a much-needed pallet cleanser. This is just the type of film that an eager horror audience would eat up at a late-night screening [B].

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