Bae Wolf Is a Fun Subversive Look at a Literary Classic

Image courtesy of David Axe.

I love weird movies and strange takes in film. Don’t believe me? You can follow me on Letterboxd and count the hundreds of underground Tubi and FilmRise midnight titles I consume in all their cheesy B-movie glory. Sometimes you’re just looking for something outside the box, something surprising or subversive that catches you off guard and throws you for a loop. Last week I was sent Bae Wolf, an indie, low-fi, LGBTQ+ take on the classic Beowulf story. I was instantly intrigued. Not only was it a high concept, but the photos sent along with the film prompted some excitement seeing star Jennifer Hill presented as a Sigourney Weaver level heroine.

Reading Beowulf in high school was the worst experience, second only to the fact that it followed reading The Canterbury Tales. The stories within these centuries-old poems were always interesting, but after every line read, you needed to translate the text to modern vocabulary. It was painstakingly difficult back then because it was years before the internet was available in our hands. About that time, A Knight’s Tale made its way into theaters, introducing the world to Heath Ledger and bringing a story from The Canterbury Tales to life using contemporary music and dialogue. Bae Wolf follows in those footsteps, so you don’t have to break out the ye olde English translator.

Freawaru looks toward her shaper while wearing tribal face paint in Bae Wolf

Off the bat, Bae Wolf is pretty charming in how it presents itself. Yesteryear costuming with modern dialogue, loose set design, and title cards. However, it boasts fantastic makeup effects and a unique approach to the source material. I was digging the movie almost immediately, which undercuts the severe tone imposed by mythical beasts and legendary heroes. It’s schlocky and silly at times but also captures an original perspective, which is far more interesting than deciphering the text. Bae Wolf rewrites the story within more realistic themes of inclusion and what we consider monstrous.

The film riffs on the story while sticking to its structure, presenting the town of Heorot as a “party town” full of drunks at the mercy of a murderous monster known as Grendel (Josh Kern). Grendel sneaks into the village, turning every passerby into a victim. Every bloodbath tests Unferth’s (Aaron Bloomberg) patience as the monster continues to return. At the same time, his betrothed Princess Freawaru (Morgan Shaley Renew), who’s definitely not that into him, goes in search of a warrior that can help Heorot rid themselves of the monster. She meets Beowulf (Hill) and her band of Geats (pronounced gay-uts), which leans a little on the gay.

We learn that the stories told of Beowulf have been greatly exaggerated by the scribe’s penning her tale, spreading to villages that a man did these heroics. Though, she argues, “like you need balls to hold a sword.” The framework and dialogue in Bae Wolf are extremely smart and incredibly sharp. Written and directed by David Axe, based on a story by Darien Cavanaugh, Bae Wolf is an enjoyable, fresh take on the character done derisively toward would-be haters expanding sexuality to include ancient heroes. The maneuver felt reminiscent of The Last Temptation of Christ in that it tells a story that navigates away from the page slightly, challenging the viewer’s belief of how it was told in the first place.

Grendel wears a hat and feathery scarf while lifting a glass of wine in Bae Wolf.
Image courtesy of David Axe.

While The Last Temptation of Christ is an extreme reference for my point, it still serves as a film that subverted public perception of what Scorcese’s bible story should have been. People mistakenly thought it would be based on the bible and not Nikos Kazantzakis’ book. That film offers a different way of thinking about a popular figure, both real and literary, to show Jesus’ more human qualities. While I don’t think people will be as unreceptive to a queer Beowulf, these days, you never know. However, it’s sad to think that narrow-mindedness may lead to dismissing a well-crafted film about humanism, representation, and inclusion just because they take issue with how the story is told. To me, the new perspective adds depth to a previously one-dimensional character and makes for one kick-ass version.

Unpolished and unapologetic, Bae Wolf steamrolls through the story’s plot points as we see Beowulf get caught trying to extort money from the Heorotian kingdom, seeking to fight monsters she and her group of followers don’t believe exist. Think Roddy McDowell in Fright Night, hired to take on vampires by a child he considers is just a devout fan, then learns the threat is real. Like Roddy, Beowulf falters momentarily to the realization but ultimately attempts to join the Heorotian fight against Grendel after witnessing the bloodbaths the monster is capable of leaving in his wake. Beowulf fights Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon, just like in the poem, though the tellings have a different flair than the story we’re used to.

There’s plenty of blood, gore, and fun to be had in David Axe’s Bae Wolf. Sword fights, monsters, and practical effects sometimes make the film look like an extensive LARP battle come to life, and the best part is that it never overstays its welcome, moving the story along at a quick pace that never feels boring or droll. We rarely get these classical kinds of monster movies in genre films anymore unless it’s a tired version of The Wolfman or Dracula. Bae Wolf proves we can expand the monster movie genre in fun, new, and inclusive ways and not just consider the monsters we’ve become accustomed to.

Bae Wolf is now available to stream on Tubi. A physical DVD release is expected to drop on February 22.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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