For generations, stories of creatures roaming the countryside would serve as morality tales. These tales as monsters and the supernatural have carried through generations and found their way to the big screen during the Universal monster era. Features like The Wolf Man served as the monsters’ peak representation until the 1980s practical effects advanced enough to create realistic monsters. While contemporary stories can still use werewolf tales, setting these tales in the 19th century adds a superstition and paranoia that cannot exist in modern eras. With Eight for Silver, director Sean Ellis sets his monster film in the 1880s. The English countryside creates a heavy and horrific atmosphere that weighs over an English manor. Despite some CG hiccups, the bloody and otherworldly frights will make Eight for Silver a must-see for fans of period-horror.
Eight For Silver opens on a small town in the English countryside, struggling to accept its new settlers. A caravan of Romani travelers have made camp on the edge of the forest. However, this land belongs to local aristocrat Seamus Laurant (Alistair Petrie). Both Laurant and the local clergy fear their new residents and take matters into their own hands. After an atrocity is committed at the camp, the town’s children experience collective nightmares about the scarecrow marking the site of the camp. When Laurant’s son disappears, bodies begin to pile up. Pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) searches for the Romani travelers and soon finds himself examining a recently discovered body. His past intersects with the deaths on the rise, making him the best hunter to stop the attacks.
Eight for Silver thrives on Ellis’ vision as a storyteller. Ellis serves as the director, writer, and cinematographer for Eight for Silver, resulting in a singular vision. Combining monster tropes with the period setting gives Ellis the ability to embrace the unknown. This also gives him the latitude to craft unique lore for his story. He embraces body-horror but draws more from Carpenter’s work than Rick Baker’s werewolves of the past. The resulting creatures are visually disturbing that break the mental fortitude of several characters.
Ellis’ creatures should be physically frightening, but the limitations of CG fall short of expectations. In many scenes, Ellis hides the creatures’ visuals behind objects, such as sheets or church pews. Embracing a style similar to Jaws certainly helps, but once the creatures reach the screen, they often disappoint. The actors sell the illusion, conveying the mental anguish and fear of the monsters. Ellis’ striking visuals without the CGI showcase evocative production qualities (the use of the silver in particular), but the visual effects hurt the final product considerably.
On the performance side, a bevy of English actors deliver variations on the age’s prim and proper tropes. Petrie fits into the lord role, with anger and righteousness that makes him the ideal conservative figure. This is his world, one where he reigns supreme over the town and authorities around him. His god-like entitlement creates serious conflicts for his family, but his arrogance brushes the danger to the side. Petrie delivers his dialogue like a man who has nothing to lose, and for the character, that idea is inconceivable.
For Holbrook, the role actually lives up to his talent. The actor has not built on the momentum of his television work, despite working with desirable directors and properties. Anyone who’s watched his work on Narcos knows of Holbrook’s talent, and Ellis gives him a role that plays to his strengths. Holbrook brings a quiet demeanor that sells his grief and hesitation as an outsider. Yet when his character is forced into action, Holbrook brings an intensity that the role demands. He’s the standout, and the film’s best moments revolve around Holbrook and Petrie’s talent.
While the film certainly has some exciting sequences, the pacing leads to some frustrating struggles. Ellis gets bogged down in recurring imagery, and the excessive use of nightmares takes some tension out of certain scenes. The men receive most of the screentime, which forces the women to the sidelines for most of the narrative. While actresses Kelly Reilly and Amelia Crouch deserve credit for their performances, they are not given the material to shine. Instead, they’re relegated to mostly one-note roles. While Reilly still delivers some very emotional beats compellingly, she does not get the role she deserves.
Eight For Silver features some very cool ideas and some unforgettable images. Yet frustrating detractors limit it from reaching the heights it sets for itself. Eight For Silver features some fun and interesting ideas and showcases shocking brutality that history often ignores. At the same time, it finds ways to subvert traditional tropes and create a unique monster film that speaks to issues today. It may not be for everyone, but for those on its wavelength, it will be a delightful surprise.