At the very beginning of the year, the film “Daybreakers” was released. That film basically said, “To Hell with ‘Twilight,’ this is a real vampire movie.” While it was extremely bloody and it’s jump scares were predictable, “Daybreakers” turned out to be a smart new take on vampires while for the most part still remained true to the classic mythology that has been becoming less apparent than a vampire’s reflection. I really liked what “Daybreakers” had to offer me. And now just in time for Valentine’s Day comes “The Wolfman,” a revamp of the old-school horror movie monster that seems to be forgotten about in modern day cinema.
Even coming into this movie, my expectations were right on the fence. The trailer wasn’t really doing anything for me. However, I gave the movie a chance mostly because Joe Johnston, who was responsible for making my favorite entry in the “Jurassic Park” series, “Jurassic Park III”, was at the helm. While most of his other directorial efforts prove to be not as good (even occasionally pretty bad), I still had this little beacon of hope to hold onto. One of my friends (it’s okay Tyler Faircloth, I won’t name any names) was betting me before seeing the movie that it would make my top 13 movies by the end of the year. That’s a pretty large assumption to make, considering that he only saw the trailer at the time.
The film opens with a man out in the woods armed with a pistol searching for a werewolf that has been wreaking havoc upon the town. The werewolf finds him first, however, slashes him across the face and kills him. This man turns out to be brother to a famous stage actor by the name of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro). Lawrence is informed of this tragedy and returns to his hometown to attend the funeral. While there, he stays with his father John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and forms a relationship with Gwen (Emily Blunt), who sent the news to him in a letter.
One night, when Lawrence and a large amount of villagers are gathered at a camp, the werewolf strikes again with a vengeance. Many of the villagers are left in a bloody, gory, mangled mess caused by the attack. As the werewolf starts to leave the area, Lawrence attempts to pursue it. The bad news is that this leads to another attack by the animal. The good news is that it is scared away just before any major damage is done. Lawrence is left with only a large bite on the neck.
That scene is probably my favorite part of the entire movie. My reasoning is that the werewolf is hardly shown at all and the audience is left with just the grisly aftermath of the attacks. That kind of tactic in filmmaking has always been interesting in movies like “Cloverfield,” because in some cases it is just as effective to not show too much. Audiences will mentally fill in the blanks themselves as to what has just happened or what they just saw, and their personal interpretations can be just as chilling as anything that can be captured on film. Unfortunately, this technique is barely (if at all) utilized in any of the scenes that follow.
His injury attracts a Scotland Yard inspector (Hugo Weaving) who questions him. After Lawrence is bitten, the curse of becoming a werewolf is now bestowed upon him whenever there is a full moon (which is apparently more frequent in movie logic). After a long night of pillaging and destruction as the wolfman, he is arrested by the police and is brutally tortured at their facilities.
Now, if this is sounding flimsy in terms of story and character…well, that’s because it is. The story is very simple and is established early on, while most of the last half has close to no extra plot elements and is instead centered on action sequences. Most characters are not written with depth or accessibility, but some still include decent performances considering the mediocre material. For example, I think that Anthony Hopkins gives a capable and creepy performance and I especially enjoyed Hugo Weaving as Inspector Francis Aberline.
While it may sound like I’m heavily criticizing the movie for these flaws, I cannot deny the fact that I had fun watching it. When the film forgets about taking itself seriously for a moment, it does a decent job at getting your attention and keeping it. Even though I discriminate on the fact that the story, writing and characters are under-developed or under-utilized, there’s just something so heartwarming about watching a werewolf knock a man’s head clean off of his neck.
There is another thing that is funny about the movie. Its violence is so over-the-top and goofy and times that you cannot help but smirk at it. In one particular scene, Lawrence as a werewolf gets trapped in a hole and starts to get ambushed by a group of local authorities. He tears off the arm of one of them, throws the severed arm back aboveground at the others. The arm’s fingers is still clenching onto the gun and somehow are still able to get in a last gunshot before the camera cuts. So stupid, yet so entertaining.
“The Wolfman” (a.k.a. The Werewolf Man) is a satisfying haunted-house movie in moments like these, but the problem is that it also takes the other weak stories and subplots too seriously. It is not quite capable of doing for werewolves what "Daybreakers" did for vampires. Slower scenes are handled in a sober manner, but the dialogue isn’t laughable enough to be campy and is not refined enough to be genuine. It is for reasons such as these that I cannot entirely recommend seeing the film in theaters. I’m sorry, Faircloth, but it just ain’t top 13 material. Better luck next time.
Note: You could make a drinking game out of how many times a close up shot of a moon appears in the film, but I wouldn’t strongly recommend this. You may drink yourself into a coma within the first twenty minutes.