The Wolfman, Universal’s gore-splattered resurrection of its 1941 gothic horror classic, finally claws its way into theatres.
Benicio del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman and tragic actor, who is lured back to his family estate in Blackmoor where his brother has disappeared under unsettling circumstances. Harbouring unpleasant childhood memories of the night his mother died, he returns only at the bequest of his brother’s grief-stricken fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt).
Reunited with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), Talbot soon learns his brother, or what’s left of him, has already been found. What’s more, he has come to believe that something sinister, perhaps even supernatural, has been hunting the local villagers.
Enter the voice of reason, a practically suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (Hugo Weaving). Meanwhile, gypsies mutter in close quarters about the return of ancient curses, the flickering of candlelight, and the fullness of the moon.
As Talbot pieces together the gory puzzle, he has a brush with the nightmarish beastie, and is bitten in the process – and you guessed it, he has the aforementioned gypsy curse. Great. Now what?
Now, the woman Talbot loves (his brother’s fiancée, naturally) is in sexy mortal danger. In fact, the only way to protect her would be for Talbot to venture into the wild moonlit woods and confront his inner and outer beast head-on.
In many ways, The Wolfman feels like a film that has first-hand experiences with gypsy curses. Even after a late-stage change in director, three release-date postponements, and a major reworking in the edit bay, The Wolfman still fails to frighten its audience. Well, not unless you get scared by loud noises, because it is a pretty noisy movie.
Plus, being a remake leaves little room for surprises. Del Toro plays it straight, and he delivers a solid, if not an engaging performance. Hopkins sleepwalks through a pretty silly symbolic-patriarch role, while Emily Blunt struggles to do whatever she can with what little she’s been given.
On a positive note, the 19th Century period recreation is superb. In fact, it recalls Hammer Films and the bleak moors, and wuthering heights of the Brontës. Rick Baker’s werewolf effects go far beyond his spine-creaking An American Werewolf in London work, while staying true to the classic Wolf Man design of 1941. Trust me, it’s a far cry from the slow-dissolve camerawork used for Lon Chaney Jr. nearly 70 years ago. But then again, with his feral good looks and brooding intensity, del Toro’s practically the Wolfman already.
Ultimately, the film is less fun than it ought to be. Particularly in the choppy second half, when gore replaces suspense, and del Toro vanishes beneath the special effects. I know. Did you know he could vanish?
Most of the blame must go to screenwriters, Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. Despite the, intermittently campy old-school-style script, the actors deliver each line with deadpan seriousness, eliciting inappropriate titters from the audience.
If I know Hollywood, before it was released, The Wolfman was no doubt sequel-bound. Let’s hope Universal shows some restraint. Rest assured, my frightened villagers, we won’t find del Toro chewing the scenery in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man anytime soon.