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Sundance Review: “Eight for Silver” Doesn’t Quite Make Cinematic Gold, but Still Offers Some Fine Treasures

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 7th, 2021

Sean Ellis, director of EIGHT FOR SILVER, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jacob Yakob.

Eight for Silver (Sean Ellis, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Writer/director Sean Ellis (Anthropoid) reinvents the werewolf genre in ways both exciting and not in his latest film, Eight for Silver. With a marvelous eye for the grotesquely unusual, he gives us a monster unlike any we have seen before, wrapped up in a bizarre mythology that kicks things into eerie gear nice and early. Unfortunately, those positives are marred by his insistence on exoticizing his Romani characters, even as he uses their ill treatment to drive the story. They get their revenge on their abusers, but still remain cinematically othered. Strong performances matched with evocative cinematography and editing make up for some of the weaknesses, as does the fine production design. If the plot falters a bit at the end, the ride to get there is wild enough to guarantee a mostly good time.

We begin in the trenches of World War I, where middle-aged Edward Laurent, leading his British platoon against the Germans, is mortally wounded. The surgeons pull not only regular bullets out of him, but something else, an artifact that leads us back to his childhood home, where sister Charlotte delivers it to their aging former guardian, John McBride (Boyd Holbrook, Logan). They share a melancholy moment before we then flash back to the root of the tale, when the siblings were children and McBride first entered their lives.

35 years earlier, somewhere in the heart of England, ruthless landowner Seamus Laurent (Charlotte and Edward’s father) rejects the claim of a traveling band of Romani to a spot on his property, ordering their dispersal, at any cost. Little does he realize that certain among them are his only protection against a local spirit that will stop at nothing to be made flesh. And so, when his barbaric henchman wipe out the visitors, that spirit takes root in the area children’s nightmares, leading them to an artifact that will, quite literally, unleash the beast. Fever dreams become feverish behavior, leading to eventual metamorphosis.

Enter Holbrook’s McIntyre, an itinerant pathologist seeking the cause of the curse that likewise killed his wife and child. Though Laurent seeks his guidance to track the monster, he refuses to accept his own responsibility in the matter until it’s too late. Things go from bad to worse, and then the blood doth flow. Along the way, a fascinating creature takes shape, one worth the price of admission, alone, and worthy of Rob Bottin’s special-effects work on John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing (no small praise). Whatever narrative mishaps may be in store, this is one cool werewolf.

l-r: Amelia Crouch, Alistair Petrie and Simon Kunz appear in EIGHT FOR SILVER, by Sean Ellis, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Sean Ellis.

As Laurent père, Alistair Petrie (Kicking Off) makes a fine, morally complex villain, capable of evil yet not without love for his family. Kelly Reilly (Eli), as his wife and mother to the two main kids, brings the emotional goods, as well. Holbrook is excellent as an efficient man of science and, effectively, the hero, going toe to toe with the beast as he tries his best to protect the innocent. As young Edward and Charlotte, Max Mackintosh and Amelia Crouch hold their own. The cast is never less than excellent.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the script, which starts off strong (despite the Romani), offering beautifully elliptical visions that creep the viewer out, then devolving, after its peak perfection with the creature reveal, to something less effective, especially in the penultimate, less than narratively coherent, scene. Still, what is strong outweighs what is less so, making of Eight for Silver a welcome addition to an age-old horror tradition.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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