A thoroughly silly premise is treated with baffling seriousness here, but it somehow comes together in an entertaining overall package.
In the French Netflix thriller The Wolf’s Call, known in its native tongue as Le Chant du Loup, François Civil plays an underwater acoustics expert by the name of Chanteraide whose finely-tuned lugholes are so powerful that he can identify the exact make and model of a submarine just by the whirr its propellors make as they churn through the water. This is the basis for traditional claustrophobic deep-sea submarine shenanigans with a certain twist of utter ridiculousness, and it’s a right laugh, even when it shouldn’t be.
It’s the near-future again, though it scarcely matters since the bulk of the modestly-budgeted film takes place in the cramped confines of a submarine, with its characters hunched over banks of monitors and buttons and sonar readouts and the like. Political tensions with Russia are escalating, but aren’t they always? There’s a mystery sub on the loose that even Chanteraide’s well-trained ears can’t identify, and there’s a whole stretch of The Wolf’s Call devoted to him investigating it, despite his XO and CO, Grandchamp (Reda Kateb) and D’Orsi (Omar Sy), telling him to forget about it, and his excellently dismissive and skeptical commandant (Jean-Yves Berteloot) telling him he’s a weirdo.
Taken together, all of this is a surprisingly engaging exercise in genre filmmaking. It’s tense and well-constructed and treated with enough seriousness that you sometimes forget how much matters rest on one dude’s bat hearing. The problems arise whenever you’re awkwardly reminded of that. Sometimes The Wolf’s Call will contrive an excuse for Chanteraide to hear something extremely nebulous and then leap to a string of aural conclusions, and it’s terribly difficult not to laugh at these moments. And now and again we’re almost challenged not to do so by serious dramatic sequences that amount to little more than him listening very intently.
You have to rely on the broader context, obviously. But sometimes there hardly seems to be any. The characters are all archetypes and are never asked to do anything that might challenge them — even Chanteraide is just a pair of world-saving ears stuck on what’s otherwise a pretty nondescript bloke. And the plot is all mechanics. There’s no broader theme or commentary or subtext; it’s just the tidy push and pull of underwater strategy, snooping and warfare, and for a bit too long at that. Still, I’d be lying if I said that The Wolf’s Call didn’t accomplish its basic mandate of entertaining an audience, in ways it meant to and ways I suspect it didn’t.