?From the producers of Underworld,? say the ads for this young werewolf-in-love saga, yet its poster imagery is that of a dreamy-eyed girl whose reflection in a mirror displays a more feral version of herself (or, in some ads, an actual snarling wolf-creature). Such an extreme contrast, in a nutshell, summarizes everything that?s wrong with this uncomfortable amalgamation of a popular young adult horror novel with Eurotrash action movie clichés. Not only will the book?s legion of obsessively dedicated fans likely be very disappointed with the liberties this adaptation takes, those looking simply for visceral thrills will probably have grown tired of the film before the guns finally come out in the final reel.
It?s a mystery what audience the producers thought they were trying to appeal to with such opposing sensibilities ? perhaps they were hedging their bets and trying to attract as wide a demographic as possible? No matter the reason, by diluting the strengths of the original source, they?ve ensured that nobody will really appreciate what?s been left over.
Living among the ruined Old World buildings of Bucharest, Romania ? cheap production costs masquerading as romantic exotica ? Vivian (Agnes Bruckner, from Lucky McKee?s The Woods (review here), giving a rather listless performance) and her extended family of loup garoux (werewolves, to you and me) try to keep to themselves by following a self-enforced ?law,? and stay out of the affairs of mundane humanity, only occasionally snacking on a bad apple when one offends the pack.
One day, Vivian meets Aiden (Hugh Dancy), a handsome artist on an extended holiday in the city, in town to research the mythology of the loup garoux, coincidentally, for a graphic novel he?s working on. The two fall in love, of course, even though Vivian knows that it?s against ?the law? to consort with a human and that Gabriel (French actor Olivier Martinez), the powerful and distrustful leader of the pack, will disapprove, as Vivian has already been promised to him. Despite feeling a deep connection with her ?family,? Vivian is psychologically and emotionally torn by conflicting allegiances ? between humanity and werewolf-hood, between Aiden and Gabriel, between family and escape ? the ?blood and chocolate? of the title.
Even without having read the novel, it?s clear when watching Blood and Chocolate that the screenwriters (including The Ring?s Ehren Kruger) must have taken serious liberties with Annette Curtis Klause?s original story, since the schizophrenic tone of the film never seems to find a comfortable balance between dark romance and outright horror/action. German director Katja von Garnier does her best with the mixed material, but her heart doesn?t seem to be in the more traditionally horror-oriented sequences, which feel tacked-on as an afterthought ? even the climactic shoot-out (in one of those frequently-used large, abandoned warehouses) is confusingly filmed and a reversal in tone from nearly everything that precedes it.
A well-staged, prologue-set slaughter of Vivian?s family in a forest cabin when she was a child, and several Most Dangerous Game-inspired hunt sequences are the best scenes in the film, the latter showing the werewolves first beginning to pursue their prey in human form, using a kind of loup-parkour to leap off rocks and trees. However, these scenes are shot as a kind of dreamlike fantasy, not as horror. For example, the human-to-wolf transformations are done completely through CGI, and with some kind of sparkling ?flash? effect rather than a traditional morph ? they?re devoid of all the bodily revulsion other werewolf films (like The Howling or An American Werewolf in London) have brought to the subgenre. And rather than becoming a combination of man and beast, the loup garoux are portrayed post-transformation by real wolves, commendable on a filmmaking level, but not at all scary or threatening. In fact, the wolves are presented very sympathetically and with a great deal of admiration. Animal lovers (myself among them) will appreciate this, but it hardly qualifies as horror.
The screenwriters have forgotten that by removing the idea of a lycanthropic curse ? these werewolves are a completely separate society from humanity, seemingly a separate race ? you remove the duality between civility and savagery, and thus the pathos that?s at the heart of the best werewolf stories. Viewers may be able to sympathize a bit with Vivian because of the choice she?s forced to make, but not nearly as much as if the outcome weren?t in her control, like Lon Chaney?s Larry Talbot, who was doomed to become a beast against his will and destroy those he loved. The filmmakers even seem to have realized this themselves, in a way: the ending flirts with a tragic, or at least melancholic outcome for Vivian, yet reverses course almost immediately with a silly conclusion seemingly straight out of one of the Underworld movies. Somewhat romantic, occasionally dramatic, but never really scary or compelling, Blood and Chocolate is like a werewolf with no teeth ? sleek and pretty, but lacking any bite.