Katja von Garnier’s “Blood and Chocolate” is all about presentation. In the foggy woods of Bucharest, a clan of werewolves — excuse me, “loup-garou” — ritualistically release their victim so they can hunt him. As they prepare for the chase, they slowly remove their long black trench coats with menacing stares. Then, once they turn into wolves, the clothes magically disappear, and when they return to human form, they are naked (and strategically, if not awkwardly, positioned to retain the film’s PG-13 rating). As the camera cuts away from the strapping young werewolves, the viewer is left wondering why they even brought along, let alone took off, their trench coats. But that clearly isn’t the point.
Everything about “Blood and Chocolate” is designed to look gothic, sexy and ominous. The film is composed of quick low-angle shots taken in dark alleys, dilapidated churches or abandoned warehouses. The cast list includes a character billed in the credits as “Sexy Redhead” (she gets eaten by a werewolf after dancing suggestively) and “Nightclub Singer” (she breathily performs in a Eurotrash club where werewolves drink absinthe). Most annoying of all, the characters insist on correcting the use of “werewolf” with its French counterpart, “loup-garou,” which — rather than seeming sophisticated, as intended — amusingly sounds like “kangaroo.”
Unfortunately, for a film all about presentation, “Blood and Chocolate” was about $10 million short in budget for its image-first, plot-second strategy to work. The money shot — humans transforming into werewolves — is decidedly underwhelming. Whenever a character is eaten or shot, the editing becomes increasingly disoriented: A gun is raised or teeth are gritted, the corresponding gnarly sounds are played, and then, magically, the mutilated body is shown. “Blood and Chocolate” did often reach the realm of so-bad-it’s-good, but, for the film to truly succeed as a guilty pleasure, the special effects would had to have been mesmerizing. Instead, they just give you a headache.
What pleasure that can be found is enhanced by the attractiveness of the mostly no-name cast. Blonde Agnes Bruckner and her overactive eyes portray Vivian, a werewolf still dealing with the traumatic murder of her werewolf parents (it’s genetic) and choosing between her desire to lead a normal, sweet life and her malicious werewolf heritage, which teaches her that man is “corrupt at its core.” In other words, she must choose between ingesting blood as a werewolf or truffles in her job as a chocolatier (wink, wink).
Of course, on each side of her moral conundrum, there is a dashing young man waiting in the wings. Oliver Martinez, of Kylie Minogue and “Unfaithful” fame, represents the devil on Vivian’s shoulder — the leader of the werewolf pack who wants to claim Vivian as his wife. Hugh Dancy plays the good guy, Aiden, a “starving artist” who is working on a graphic novel (“not a comic book!”) about loup-garou. The love triangle falls flat on every level thanks to Bruckner, who should win an award for mustering such an unflinchingly apathetic face while pronouncing that she’s in love.
The plot unravels into a series of banal prophecies, physical impossibilities and cheap contrivances in werewolf trivia (for example, when loup-garou feel pain — such as the prick of their fingers — their eyes glow, exposing their true identity).
At the end of the movie, the writers ambitiously try to generalize the plot into an allegory about persecuted minorities — “Anything we’re not is a thing we’re taught to fear,” Vivian realizes — and the director mistakes the inclusion of overused random motifs for artistic merit — close-ups of feet hopping on the sides of buildings, alcoholic beverages and gliding ribbons inexplicably run throughout the film. In the end, it seems someone should have made von Garnier choose between making a low-budget art house film and a werewolf movie. Dearest Katja, you can’t have it all.
The importance of “Blood and Chocolate” is that it makes the viewer appreciate, rather than complain about, the inflated budgets of modern blockbuster cinema. Maybe next time MGM produces a trashy, popcorn film, they’ll spend the extra money for an actual leading actor and effects that are in some way special.