Based on a novel by Annette Curtis Klause, with a title pulled from Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, German director Katja Von Garnier (Bandits) uses Bucharest, Romania as a vibrant backdrop for yet another predictable werewolf movie, albeit with a slight twist. Vivian Gandillion (Agnes Bruckner) returns to her original home of Romania after her family is hunted and murdered in a Colorado forest house from which Vivian escapes by running into the woods before turning into a full-fledged wolf (loup garoux).
The 19-year-old Vivian works for a local chocolatier when she isn’t hanging out with her pack, led by Gabriel (Oliver Martinez), who meet monthly to hunt a single human beneath the light of the full moon. Although betrothed to the ageless Gabriel, who must marry a new mate every seven years, Vivian is romantically tempted by the human affection of Aiden Galvin (Hugh Dancy—Ella Enchanted), an American graphic novelist researching the legend of the loup garoux for his next book. The story is a no frills template of every other modern teen werewolf tale except that the werewolves here are actual wild wolves rather than man/beast creations.
The camera loves Bruckner. The young actress who created a devastating performance for Karen Moncrieff’s Blue Car, where she played a troubled high school student sexually exploited by her English teacher, possesses all of the hallmarks of a Hollywood star. Bruckner exudes a naughty seductive quality akin to that of Scarlett Johansson, but without Johansson’s creaky mechanics. Her eyes have a confrontational shyness that dares you to look away.
It’s this quality that Von Garnier explores as a telling element of female strength for her film’s primary theme of female freedom. Vivian disdains her anarchistic cousin Rafe (Bryan Dick) and his immature but loyal wolf pack (called “The Five”). Unlike them, Vivian wants to hunt for the thrill of running as a wolf, but not to kill. The symbiotic clash sets up the real drama of the story as Vivian’s personal struggle to balance her animal and human nature.
In the opening shots, Vivian runs through a Romanian forest and on the wet streets of Bucharest wearing a thin hooded sweat jacket that puts a retrograde spin on the Little Red Riding Hood story. The sequence sums up all of the film’s pent-up desire that will only be revealed in hunting scenes where the pack of loup garoux change from human to canine form.
As with all werewolf movies, it’s the transformation scene that provides the payoff on the plot. For these simplistic yet impressive highlight scenes, Von Garnier imposes a luminescent Maxfield Parish-kind of glow on the characters as they take running jumps toward their midair transformation. This is the werewolf myth put through a new age filter but with an erotic weight. Unfortunately, Von Garnier falls short of following the fuse of Vivian’s sexual rawness and sensual poetry, which Bruckner hints at in every scene.
Blood & Chocolate is a werewolf movie for teen girls to giggle at when they aren’t contemplating their own quest for sensual and societal freedom. John Landis’ 1981 film An American Werewolf In London is the smartest werewolf movie of the past 30-plus years because it combined all of the genre’s requisite elements while adding a layer of sardonic irony that added an irreverent lift of wry comedy to the horror.
Here, Von Garnier lost sight of the humor inherent in the riot grrrl tone that she pursued, and with the horror inherent in the genre. But more importantly, she failed to connect the female libido in favor of a sanitized commercial view of romance that went out in the 1970s. MTW