Werewolf (Wilkolak) (2018)

Werewolf (Wilkolak) first published by SciFiNow

Liberated by Russians from the horrors of the concentration camps, eight orphans have been left in the care of adult Jadwiga (Danuta Stenka) at an abandoned palace deep in the Polish forest. Here, still reeling and scarred from their own experiences, they struggle to keep from the door a wolf of many forms: not just starvation and dehydration, or rapist Russians and bunkered Nazis, but also a vicious pack of stray Camp dogs, trained to attack on sight, and circling the palace for the kill. There is also another, more internal threat lurking in these children’s midst: the ticking time bomb of their own violent, traumatised dysfunction, as conducts learnt in the camp risk wreaking further havoc in what has now become their new prison.

In Adrian Panek’s film, the ‘werewolf’ of the title is a metaphor. The first meal that the children share in the palace is a tin of dog food, which they fight over and spill all over the floor before picking it up again with their hands and mouths to devour hungrily. Inured to Camp life, they have become brutalised, bestialised and literally doglike. “If you eat with your hands or fight again, you go back behind barbed wire,” insists the eldest among them, Hanka (Sonia Mietielica), “Use the cutlery!” She recognises that if these wild ones are ever to leave the Camps (and their associated guises) behind them, they must undergo a metamorphosis back into civilised society, where sharing and cooperating, even showing compassion and mercy, are the norm. It is a lesson that some of them will acquire before others, with the bespectacled, ever vigilant Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak) particularly slow to shed his aggressive selfishness and hunger for power.

  Anchoring this metaphor are the literal (and brilliantly wrangled) dogs, similarly hungry, similarly locked into destructive behavioural patterns, and similarly in need of transformative taming if they are ever to be reintegrated into normal life – in a world where most nights it is not full moon.  

Strap: Adrian Panek’s film is a 1945-set realist fairy tale in which bestialising trauma must be overcome through transformation.

© Anton Bitel