Set in snowy Canada in the 1800s, the film concerns sisters Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) drifting through the wilderness. After encountering a weird old Indian woman who spouts dire warnings, Brigitte gets caught in a bear trap. Thankfully, an Indian hunter (Nathaniel Arcand) turns up to help, and leads them Fort Bailey, a trading post. But the men (Brendan Fletcher and surly J.R. Bourne among them) there are deeply fearful of outsiders, with only captain Tom McManus insisting they stay. Unfortunately, Fort Bailey seems to be targeted by werewolves…and Ginger gets bitten by one. And so it begins.
Although it was shot back-to-back with the second film, this 2004 prequel (alternate universe? Re-imagining?) from director Grant Harvey (second unit director on the first one- will the Best Boy direct the next one?) and writers Steve Mussicotte and Christina Ray seems to me to be an attempt to keep the series alive by creating an earlier or alternate timeline. The fact that I (and every other critic it seems) am unsure just what the film is, tells you all you need to know about the filmmakers’ motives here. It’s not a bad film in the slightest, but after two very strong entries, this one’s lacking in inspiration. It’s basically the first film with a different setting, and Katharine Isabelle’s Ginger completely neutered. That latter point is particularly regrettable. I get that the film is set during a time when women were probably more demure, but it makes it seem like Ginger isn’t herself here, and certainly isn’t as interesting. Ginger’s a bit bland to be honest. Yep, pretty proud of that one.
I also didn’t much care for the Indian mumbo-jumbo, including quite possibly the strangest film to find a peyote freak-out scene. It’s not nearly as fun as the one in “Young Guns”. These parts of the film are just a bit too clichéd and boring, with Nathaniel Arcand unable to act his way out of a paper hat, hardly helping. The other supporting characters, however, are nicely distinct from one another and pretty interesting. Fans of the TV show “Teen Wolf” will no doubt enjoy the presence of JR Bourne as perhaps the least likeable character in the film (I refuse to watch that show because it seems such a cheap ploy to turn the Michael J. Fox film into a “Twilight” with wolves teen TV drama that bears no resemblance to the film that inspired its title).
The film is also well-shot, though Michael Marshall has a pretty easy job with all that gorgeous, yet harsh snowy scenery (He later shot another snowbound film, “Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings”). It’s easily the best-looking film in the trilogy. The mixture of horror and period setting almost fooled me into thinking I was watching a Hammer film, though films like the underrated “Ravenous” and “Romasanta” are probably better comparisons. The werewolf scenes are pretty expertly staged, not showing too much of the presumably not terribly expensive FX, and relying more on sound FX and camera obfuscation. The music score by Alex Khaskin is also rather good, reminding me of “Game of Thrones” for some reason. So there’s certainly a lot to like here, it’s just a big stepdown from the two previous films, in terms of freshness and inspiration.
At the end of the day, this is a pretty watchable film, but it really is just a re-tread of the original with a different setting. That’s not quite enough to distinguish this one, if you ask me.