Polish-produced horror films are as rare as albino hens’ teeth, so it’s good to see films such as Marcin Wrona’s ‘Demon’, Małgorzata Szumowska’s ‘The Other Lamb’ and this allegorical horror from writer-director Adrian Panek putting Poland on the horror movie map.
It’s Poland, February 1945: the Germans are on the verge of defeat, and the inmates of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp have been liberated by the Russians, who will soon succeed the Nazis as the country’s oppressive occupying force. Left to their own devices, eight children take refuge in a dilapidated orphanage, where they find themselves surrounded by the vicious attack dogs (the title is metaphorical) abandoned by the fleeing Nazis. As hunger and thirst start to bite, the children face another bloody battle for survival as the ravenous dogs – and other dangers – stalk their prey.
It takes considerable chutzpah to make a horror film set during the Holocaust, but there’s nothing exploitative about ‘Werewolf’, which succeeds as a straight genre film, an allegory about the false dawn of Polish liberation, and a study of human behaviour and resilience under extreme duress. The mostly non-professional actors are uniformly excellent, while the painterly cinematography (a Polish speciality) and spartan score create a suitably chilly mood. Ironically, it’s this very coldness – coupled with the sense that Panek has stretched an hour of material to fill the running time – that prevents ‘Werewolf’ from transforming into its full potential.