Eight for Silver, directed and written by Sean Ellis, tells the story of outsider pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) who works with settlement leader Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) to find his missing son and hunt a beast plaguing the townspeople. The film is an atmospheric horror that works thanks to its reinvention of classic horror tropes. However, there are some cheap scares riddled throughout that bog down the film’s promising concept.
Coming off his last feature Anthropoid, Sean Ellis switches gears and enters an entirely new genre. His direction grounds the terrifying supernatural in a reality that elevates tension. For instance, characters like Holbrooks’ John McBride come off cold and calculated in the wake of the supernatural. His reactions to these horrific circumstances put you at ease and worry you at the same time. Ellis takes his history of character dramas racketed with tense situations and puts it into the horror genre. That aspect of Eight for Silver works well.
That tension is thanks to its cast. Holbrook, Petrie, and Kelly Reilly all bring their A-game. In a concept that could have come across as overdone and cheesy, these actors made it work. The supporting cast also put in a terrific effort. The character of John McBride is an archetype, but serves the story well enough that it is easily glossed over. Seamus Laurent, owner of the settlement and defacto leader of the townspeople, brings a passion to his antagonistic role that is a highlight. There is no weak link in the cast.
The production design compliments everything as well. The nineteenth century backdrop creates creepy candle-lit sequences that leave much to the imagination. The use of these candles as the light source makes everything much more unsettling. Characters walk down hallways at night, barely illuminated themselves, making the viewer unsure of what is behind or in front of them. The sound design ratchets up the mood, creating some cheap jump-scares in the process (we’ll touch more on that soon).
The story, centered around cursed land due to the selfishness of those colonizing it, has some very interesting concepts. Ellis uses Eight for Silver to re-invent werewolf lore, which works to great success. Combined, he manages to tell a parable of sorts on the consequences of greed and colonization with the backdrop of a monster movie.
While the rules of werewolves and how they work are changed in a creative manner, Eight for Silver stills falls into the standard tropes of monster horror. It’s fun to watch and see the characters uncover how the curse works and what motivates the monsters, but in the end it is all handled in a predictable fashion. The designs of the werewolves themselves are unique and terrifying, and some of the old school special effects will have you thinking you’re watching a John Carpenter monster flick.
As said before, while this story works to great success and re-invents some ideas, it is prone to some crucial downfalls. The film is repetitive with its cheap jump-scare tactics, creating only one or two truly imaginative scares. The use of its sound editing to build up tension is excellent. However, the random increase of volume to make one startled is unnecessary. The atmosphere and story is already unsettling enough and the use of these scares seems arbitrary rather than serving the story.
The action, when it is there, can be exciting. Also, watching a good werewolf fight is something I’ll never complain about. Any film that deals with werewolves like Eight for Silver does will have its entertaining moments of combating the supernatural. Overall, director Sean Ellis makes a (mostly) successful horror film that, while prone to cliches and cheap scares, still manages to re-invent enough to be engaging. It’s an atmospheric and gore-fueled horror that shouldn’t be missed. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 8/10
Eight for Silver is pending a wide release date. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!