Sean Ellis‘s Eight for Silver tells the story of a late 19th-century village that is cursed when the land baron, Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) brutally slaughters a Roma clan living on land that he wants to claim. The curse first takes the form of nightmares that the entire town suffers through, then Seamus’ son Edward (Max Mackintosh) vanishes. Coming in to investigate is pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), who brings with him tales of supernatural beasts. Slowly, the village is consumed by the horrific curse and it’s up to McBride to save them before they are all consumed by it.
While ghoulish and atmospheric, there are two main problems when it comes to Eight for Silver. The first is that the ending is given away almost immediately. The majority of the story of the curse is actually placed in a flashback. We first meet John McBride in the form of a heavily made-up Boyd Holbrook. There is no tension in the film because we already have a general idea of the headcount of the film. The stakes are low. We aren’t given much time to bond with many of the other characters outside of the Laurent family and McBride, which is stunning because the film is a whopping 115 mins long.
This leads to the second problem. It is too damn long. Burdened by extraneous scenes and then excessively long action sequences, there are only a few moments when the story is truly gripping. These are the scene when the townspeople are being stalked by the unseen beast that is terrorizing their town. The source of this beast comes from a Roma curse, and after witnessing their slaughter at the hands of Laurent and the townspeople, it’s a little hard to feel sympathy for them. The story feels bloated in some parts and then scant in others.
The lore behind the curse is a little… weak. Something about the 30 pieces of silver that was given to Judas in exchange for betraying Christ, something about some forged silver dentures. It’s very loose worldbuilding that is handwaved away with ominous music, some fog machines, and a nightmarish scarecrow (one of the most horrific scenes in the film). Ultimately, what comes of the curse is basically a werewolf. McBride compares it to the Beast of Gévaudan, a real-life man-eating beast from the late 18th century that inspired many werewolf stories.
Essentially the story is a monster hunting story with a plot burdened by insanely confusing choices from the characters — it all comes down to a lack of communication and logic. Ellis’ cinematography is undeniably spooky and hits the atmosphere of gothic horror right on the nose. The eye toward body horror in the transformation into a werewolf sidesteps some overdone transformation scenes nicely. Holbrook is a solid performer in this playing the stolid and level-headed McBride, feeling very much like a Van Helsing. Kelly Reilly is also enjoyable as Isabelle Laurent, Seamus’ wife and the lady of the house. She and Holbrook have good chemistry which might have served them well in a subplot, but that goes largely unexplored.
From the lost potential to the unnecessary frame narrative, Eight for Silver stumbles toward the finish line despite delightfully ghoulish and powerfully atmospheric directing and the potential of an indulgent gothic horror.
This film review was based on the premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021. Photo by Sean Ellis | Courtesy of Sundance Institute.