Sheep Skin (2013); Victory Moonglow Weizenbock

First a little fear…

How far would you go for revenge?  I’m not talking about “someone stole my burrito out of the fridge at work, so next time I will leave a burrito with Ex-Lax” sort of stuff.  I mean real, honest to goodness revenge on someone who has done something fantastically wrong to you.  Could you attack a person?  Could you kidnap someone?  Could you torture, could you kill?  How terrible would their actions have to be for you to want to take their life?  What if you thought they were a monster, both in fact and in form…how bad would someone’s actions have to be for you to compromise yourself?

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Nathan has been through all of these questions and has committed to a course of action.  Not only has he decided just how far he will go for revenge, but he has even managed to persuade the other members of his band to join him.  Nathan’s sister has been killed, and he believes that her boyfriend at the time, Todd, is the one that killed her.  The police believe that her death is anything but murder; not by any man anyway.  You see, she was found mauled, torn apart by the claws of some large predatory animal.  So why would Nathan and his friends be so dedicated to exacting revenge upon Todd?

Nathan has looked into his sister’s death, and what he found is more than a little disturbing to him.  She was ripped by the claws of a beast; on that much he agrees with the police.  But he has also found a pattern of deaths just like his sisters…a pattern of young women found with similar wounds.  But he has found another common factor to these heinous acts, one missed by the police or simply discarded.  All of these deaths happened on the night of a full moon, and Todd was in each of the locations on the corresponding night.  Nathan believes Todd to be a werewolf, and has convinced his band mates of the same.  Tonight they will kidnap Todd, learn the truth, and destroy him if necessary.

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But what if Todd is just a man?  What if this whole thing is nothing more than a fabrication of Nathan’s grief-stricken mind?  How far will this group go to prove that this man is something more than he seems, and what if they can’t…  Writer/director Kurtis Spieler has put together a surprisingly engaging film here; the perfect sort of film for the budget of an independent filmmaker.  Sheep Skin doesn’t try to be more than it is, and yet somehow manages to be.  With a filming schedule of only eight days and a miniscule budget of $25,000, it was very important to know exactly what to put on screen to engage a viewing audience that is so spoiled and jaded by Hollywood big-budget flash.  All things considered, Spieler has done just that.

What he has put together here isn’t just an 80 minute wait to find out if this guy is a werewolf or not.  We certainly want to know, but watching this group of kidnappers and torturers slowly succumb to the pressure of what they are doing is the real payoff.  As the countdown to the full moon rising and thus the ultimate test ticks by, we also see the doubts creep in and begin to disintegrate what started as a unified group of people with a common goal.  The parallels here to our modern world are certainly not accidental and send a powerful message.  When we fear the “monsters” that threaten us, how far will we go to protect ourselves from them?  How long until we become monsters to each other?

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Sheep Skin isn’t the sort of film you want to walk into without understanding the limitations of its independent, and thus low-budget style.  The acting here isn’t going to win any awards, however there are a few standout moments.  The violence is filmed in a variety of cut-away, off-camera or pulled punch sort of way that speaks again to the budget and access to effects talent.  I do give huge props for the use of practical effects when it could have been made “bigger and better” with some cheap CGI blood sprays.  Keeping it latex and stage blood helps ground what we are seeing in a better “reality”.  Go into Sheep Skin expecting these things and you will not be disappointed with what really matters…the story.  The pacing is handled well, as is the difficulty of shooting in such a limited set space.  Perhaps most importantly, you really find yourself trying to figure out if they are torturing a random innocent man, or if this guy is actually a monster waiting to emerge.

 

All in all, this isn’t what most think of when they think of werewolf films…for the vast majority of the film we don’t even have an answer as to whether or not there IS such a thing.  Whether or not Todd is a werewolf, Sheep Skin makes us ask ourselves if we aren’t watching a film FULL of monsters.  Fear is powerful and can make us do many things we might not normally.  But fear in large groups, with a common enemy, is something we see on television news and internet forums every day of our lives.  I applaud Sheep Skin for walking the fine line of “film with a message” or “film for fun” and giving us both.  Expect bigger and better from Kurtis Spieler to be sure, this guy is a big movie wolf hiding in small budget sheep’s skin.

Review edited from original appearance at Underland Online

…then a little beer!

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Victory Moonglow Weizenbock (8.7% ABV) – Downington, PA

In just the same way that Sheep Skin isn’t what most people will think of when they want a “werewolf flick”, Victory Brewing’s Moon Glow isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when choosing a great Weizenbock.  When contemplating the best of this 100 year old or so style, a beer connoisseur will usually gravitate to the Schneider Weiss Brewery in Germany…the very place the Weizenbock was born.  Their brew Aventinus is quite possibly the pinnacle of the style; held aloft as the “perfect” Weizenbock.  Weihenstephaner, Ayinger, New Glarus and The Livery have all brewed renditions of this strong and overtly hopped wheat beer which are considered to be world class.  But for upwards of 15 years now, Victory Brewing has been producing their Moon Glow seasonal (so named since 2003) and blowing minds with the quality and remarkable flavor profile.

Moon Glow is impressive right out of the bottle.  Pouring a rusty amber color and developing a short lived but thick off-white head, the aromas burst forward in a many-layered bouquet.  First to the nose is deep fruit…plum perhaps…then quickly banana and a light and bright pear.  Caramel is up next adding to the richness and giving an impression of sweetness and warmth.  A subtle phenolic presence is then wrapped up in spice and a peppery finish from the hops.

The full-bodied mouthfeel is almost creamy, but a decent carbonation keeps things vibrant.  Caramel and clove are up front right out of the gate; then a hint of banana.  Brown sugar notes lie over crisp apple and then sour cherries.  The whole while a low alcohol presence hints at the remarkable 8.7% ABV, but manages to not finish terribly dry.  Instead, we get lasting spice and herbal notes from the hop inclusions.  While not as dry as some Weizenbocks I have had, I find this finish much more pleasing.

All in all, Victory Brewing’s Moon Glow is my personal favorite Weizenbock, hands down.  While I would hesitate to say that it is an “American” take on this classic German style, I would certainly admit that some liberties have been taken…all, it seems, for the betterment of the beer.  While technically a fall seasonal, I have had luck the last couple years finding Moon Glow all through the Winter months and usually even into the Spring.  Combine this with distribution into nearly 40 U.S. States and several European countries as well and you should be able to get your hands on this beer without too much difficulty.  Let me tell you, it is well worth it.

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