IMAGINE 2012: LOBOS DE ARGA review
It had been a while since I saw a satisfyingly good werewolf film to be honest, but that particular itch got royally scratched with the Spanish horror-comedy "Lobos de Arga" (aka. "Game of Werewolves").
Director Juan Martínez Moreno has managed to craft a film which is a wee bit scary, somewhat bloody, very funny and immensely entertaining... and which is featuring many big hairy ravenous werewolves! Thankfully it was shown at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam this week, which is where I managed to see it.
And oh yes, I did like it a lot. Read on...
Tomás Mariño is a writer living in Madrid who is invited back to Arga, the tiny village he grew up in as a kid, for a celebration in his honor. Not that he has a close bond with Arga (he left when he was fifteen and never went back), but his vanity is tickled and he hopes the trip will cure his writer's block.
Upon his arrival he discovers that the somewhat sinister locals all suffer under a literally monstrous curse. And a legend tells that the curse can be lifted by sacrificing someone from the Mariño family...
Tomás suddenly doesn't want to be part of the "celebrations" anymore, but when friends help him escape they accidentally set a werewolf free as well... and all hell breaks loose.
The mix of horror and comedy is often tried but few films manage to be successful in both. That is no wonder: the two genres mostly deflate each other, although a case can be made that both horror and comedy work by building lots of tension and then letting it release unexpectedly.
So if "Lobos de Arga" has a failure in this regard it is that it never becomes truly scary. It does manage however to get very creepy, "Wicker Man" style, especially during the initial build-up. And this atmosphere never really leaves the film even during its hilarious moments, of which there are quite a few. It manages to push buttons where it counts.
This makes "Lobos de Arga" an easy film to like. It also helps that the cinematography is gorgeous, bathing the rural village in warm orange during the daytime and pale blue during the full moons. Tomás almost seems to have traveled several decades back in time for his adventure and so does the film.
As said before "Lobos de Arga" is incredibly funny at times, especially when the "heroes" try to out-trick the curse by implementing a partial solution by themselves. These scenes work because of a great sense of chemistry between the three leads Gorka Otxoa (who plays Tomás), Carlos Areces (of "Extraterrestre" and "The Last Circus" fame) and Secun de la Rosa. Each of their characters has a friend/enemy relationship with the other two and their acidic interactions never cease to entertain. As such the film is more a relative of "Shaun of the Dead" or "Hot Fuzz" than to "An American Werewolf in London".
The actual werewolf make-up used here is impressive and old-school. Near the end there are many of the creatures in full view and while CGI is used for cleaning up cables and stuff, the monsters are men-in-suits which look great. The effects are almost all old-fashioned and practical and this works wonders in keeping the "decades old" atmosphere of the film intact. It all makes "Lobos de Arga" a pleasure to look at.
The film is not perfect though, as there are some sloppy gaps in the storytelling and it cannot avoid all of the cliche genre pitfalls. And while the legend surrounding the curse is handsomely explained at the start of the film (by way of a quite lurid animated graphic novel) it gets repeated almost word for word a half hour later. But while "Lobos de Arga" occasionally stumbles it never falls, and I left the theater in high spirits.
A cleverly made comedy which features a nice atmosphere, beautiful settings and an army of kick-ass werewolves. What is there not to like?
The audience at the Imagine festival in Amsterdam thought so as well, and awarded the film a solid 8.0 out of 10.