aka WILKOLAK, SURVIVORS
Directed by Adrian Panek
Written by Adrian Panek
Starring Kamil Polnisiak, Nicolas Przygoda, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka, Werner Daehn, Jakub Syska, Helena Mazur, Krzysztof Durski, Maksymilian Balcerowski, Julia Slusarczyk, Matylda Ignasiak, leksandr Shcherbyna, Eugeniusz Malinowski, Radoslaw Chrzescianski, Wojciech Namiotko, Barbara Pigon
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A group of Polish children who survived the end of WWII are taken to an orphanage in the middle of the woods. When their caretaker is killed by a pack of feral dogs that were let loose by the Nazis at the end of the war, the children are forced to take refuge in the castle without food or water. With the dogs circling the castle outside, desperation sets in and the kids are forced to become primitive in order to survive.
WEREWOLF is a quiet, yet complex and subtle tale of survival. Rich in symbolism, the film shows the devastating effects of war on the children as they scramble for the smallest bits of food and act like animals themselves. While the hope of some kind of love and home is promised them, it is quickly taken away when their caretaker is killed and they have to survive on their own. Playing out like a twisted take on LORD OF THE FLIES, it is a brilliant and saddening look at how fragile civility is given the right desperate circumstances.
At the same time, the film takes a more intimate look at this theme through the portrayal of three of the children. Wladek (played by Kamil Polnisiak) is a shy and savvy boy whose ingenuity shines when he trains the rest of the children to salute and bow down to the Nazis when they invade their shelter during the war. This move of subservience proves to save the children at the beginning of the film, but it’s this same theory that Wladek adheres to as he begins to want the approval of the Nazis, almost idolizing their actions and believing too much in their cause. It makes him an outsider among the children later in the film, though his actions served to save them in the beginning. This abandonment by his peers leads to resentment when a more alpha male Hanys (played by the very River Phoenix-esque Nicolas Przygoda) joins the group. Hanys enters the group as a bully, picking on Wladek for his role of leader, and taking control of the more influential kids. Hanys and Wladek also come into conflict over Hanka (played by Sonia Mietielica), who is the oldest girl in the group and garners the affections of both boys. Hanka, though, is more interested in adopting the maternal role of the group, shying away advances from both. These complex roles make for an interesting conflict for the story and much of the runtime is dedicated to the subtle dance the three make as affections are gained and shunned and roles of leadership are passed on and shifted once new perils arise.
When the threat of the dogs encircling the castle becomes apparent, the roles shift again and simple survival forces petty differences to dissolve. While each of the three children react in a different way, all three prove to be important in overcoming this situation. The result is a quiet, but powerful ending that resonates on an emotional, symbolic, and sheer gut level as the children make their final standoff against the pack. The final moments of WEREWOLF prove to be extremely resonant, letting the audience know that the horrors of war last long after the final bullet is fired.