I had some major reservations going into the screening of The Wolfman. For those of us who followed the film’s production, there were frequent rumors of strife on the set, and then there was an ominous release date switch at the last moment. However, once the film began, those reservations were put to rest. I had a blast seeing this new vision of the classic movie monster brought to life.
Director Joe Johnston manages to deliver an atmospheric Gothic thriller, full of foggy London moors, mythical beasts, and buckets and buckets of blood and gore. When all was said and done, I was willing to forgive some story flaws, because this was just so much fun for the horror fan in me. The film is a nice throwback to the monster movies of the 40’s, and has a distinctly nostalgic feel.
A perfectly cast Benicio Del Torro (who has a very feral look in real life) plays Lawrence, who has been living in America, but has been summoned to return to London because his brother has gone missing. By the time Lawrence reaches his family’s dilapidated mansion, his brother’s mutilated body has been found in a ditch. Lawrence’s father (a diabolical Anthony Hopkins) seems curiously nonplussed by the whole ordeal, and clearly harbors a deep-rooted dislike of his remaining son.
Lawrence makes a promise to his brother’s grieving fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) that he will solve the mystery of what happened to his brother. His quest takes him to a nearby gypsy camp that has fallen under the suspician of the townspeople. While he is talking to some of the gypsies, a creature attacks the camp with undiscriminating zeal. Sheer mayhem occurs as decapitations, amputations, and slashed throats lay in the wake of the beast’s assault.
Lawrence is attacked and bitten by the creature, and barely survives. Gwen feels guilty and stays on at the manor to help Lawrence recover. After she realizes the truth about Lawrence being a werewolf, she vows to help him. Meanwhile, Lawrence learns some painful family secrets and uncovers some horrifying childhood memories while he struggles to hold on to his humanity.
The film sort of fizzles during a final confrontation, but that is a minor quibble. Here’s what worked for me:
The Wolfman is well cast and well acted. I especially liked that Gwen’s character is not the typical damsel in distress that you normally see in monster movies. She is very capable and courageous, and even shows up on a white horse to come save Lawrence. How about that for a nice change of pace? Anthony Hopkins is delicously wicked as the unhinged patriarch.
I loved that this is a Wolfman, not a wolf. In keeping with Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman from 1941, this Wolfman is bipedal (but can run on all-fours if warranted) and looks more like a hairy human in the face than a wolf. Here the Wolfman looks exactly as I remember from my “movie monster” books I used to read under the covers with a flashlight. It gives the film a kitschy, nostalgic, B-movie feel.
Kudos to Johnston for taking the subtle route during the transformations, opting for a foot, a claw, a glint of fang rather than showing the whole body at once. I think that this type of editing worked brilliantly here. Jackson takes the same editing approach during the attack scenes. You see a slashing claw, then the ripped throat, rarely do you actually catch the throat actually being ripped. Again, to me, this made the movie feel more old fashioned, like the classic horror films.
The movie is extremely visceral, and very gory. Since most scenes are filmed in greys, greens, and dark blues, the blood really pops when it appears. The whole movie is very dark, with lots of fog, scenes that take place in dark forests, even the mansion is pitch black save for some candles. It gives the movie a terrific, creepy atmosphere.
The movie is scary. There are lots of jump-scares, and a few scenes that take place in a mental asylum that are downright terrifying, especially some dream sequences.
If you have an affinity for monster movies, and you take the movie for what it is-no more, no less, you should have a great time.