No, I don’t know why Bae Wolf uses “wolf” instead of “wulf,” but that has nothing to do with whether or not the finished product is any good, so let’s move on. The film establishes a somewhat irreverent tone right from the get-go, what with its “500 AD-ish” timestamp and the goofy line old Shaper has about “how much mead” the superfan can afford. This is all very amusing, but it comes and goes in waves, leading to tonal confusion. Grendel’s arc is treated like high drama (in fairness, it is), Freawaru’s romance is delicately told, and Beowulf’s secret is given great weight. This drama is all very engaging, but it doesn’t mesh with the queen dancing or a young Shaper (Cleveland Langland) always embellishing the size, look, or ferocity of any danger they come across (a truly funny running gag).
Add in the stiff acting from the majority of supporting players (the drunk guy at the very beginning is especially awful), and one might be tempted to shelve the movie before it’s over. But that would be a disservice to what ultimately proves a fun and satisfying adventure/romance. For one, the costuming and make-up are better and more convincing than in some period-set big studio titles. While the low budget makes itself known on occasion, it is clear that Axe and his crew dedicated themselves to do the best they could with what they had. In that respect, the costume and special effects make-up on Grendel and delineating the various warriors are beyond stunning.
“…the costuming and make-up are better and more convincing than in some period-set big studio titles.”
Plus, the primary actors are excellent. Renew fares the absolute best, imbuing her warrior princess with a sense of pathos and morality that makes her instantly relatable. Bloomberg is also a lot of fun and shares great chemistry with Renew. As the hero of the title, Jennifer Hill holds her own in the action scenes and allows the burden of expectations to be felt from her first scene. Finally, Kern brings Grendel a depth and sadness not always present in other adaptations, allowing audience members to empathize with him.
Axe being unable to maintain control over the tone of Bae Wolf does not mean the production is poorly directed. On the contrary, he shows a real knack here, especially in the way he orchestrates the action. As an independent production, money probably wasn’t available to train actors with swords and/or stage a bloody brawl. As such, the director hides the violence in some very creative ways. Take Grendel’s first killing spree. A drunk Dane comes out of the mead hall, walks toward the camera, and leans against a post to not fall while still drinking. In the background, the hall guards are attacked and killed by Grendel, who then enters the hall. The camera never cuts away from the drunk Dane, as the victims come running out of the building, only to fall down dead. It is a clever way to imply and show carnage without actually showing it. Similar things happen throughout and are always great fun.
Bae Wolf loses its silly style as the narrative goes on, which leads to scenes that tonally don’t fit with what just happened. But the dedicated leading actors all perform their roles with dignity, giving them a weight that isn’t always present in the script. Throw in the amazing make-up, wonderful costumes, and Axe’s clever directing, and you get a film that isn’t perfect but is highly watchable.
To learn more about the film, head over to its official site.
"…the director hides the violence in some very creative ways."