I love werewolves, I really do. They are fantastic movie monsters pretty much designed to show off old fashioned movie make up magic. Yet, for some reason there have never been that many genuinely good werewolf movies. Maybe the concept is too silly to inspire major filmmaking talents to explore and bend the mythology to their will or maybe they are just too old fashioned for contemporary tastes. Regardless, you can count off the good werewolf movies (An American Werewolf In London, The Howling, Ginger Snaps, the 1941 Wolf Man, etc.) on your fingers and even then, it’s a struggle to make it to ten without getting apologetic. So, I went into Wolves with hope. The standard for this subgenre is fairly low, so it wouldn’t take much for this to feel like a contemporary classic. Sadly, my optimism wasn’t rewarded. This movie is absolute garbage. Once again werewolves get the short end of the horror stick. Ah well, maybe next time… well, probably not… sigh.
So, this latest werewolf stink pile stars Lucas Till (aka Havok from the current X-Men cycle) as a wayward teen who just can’t fit in even though he’s generically attractive and as nice as can be. Part of that is good old fashioned screenwriting contrivance, and part of it is because he’s a werewolf, bro! One night when he gets frisky with his girlfriend his wolf comes out and he wakes up in a pool of the remains of his slaughtered parents. So he hits the road, desperately trying to outrun news reports describing him as “The Cannibal Kid.”
Eventually he stumbles into a bar and meets a scarred creepy stranger, the kind of guy that no troubled teen should go to for advice. But, Till’s character is clearly an idiot, so he listens and follows the creepo’s instructions out to Lupine Ridge where he’s told he will find the answers he seeks. Once there, he’s immediately put on the shit list of the local biker who runs the town (Jason Momoa), but catches the eye of the town’s troubled teen beauty (Merritt Patterson), and gets farmhand work from a grizzled, yet kindly wise old man (Stephen McHattie). Wouldn’t ya know it? They’re all werewolves! Turns out that Momoa’s been running the town with his pack of wild dogs and the kind local werewolves like Patterson and McHattie have been turning a blind eye to avoid vicious mauling. Guess who is going to have to save the town? Hint: the inexperienced hero in need of redemption.
Yep, it’s a dumb werewolf movie that’s one part soap opera, one part Northern Exposure, and one part sub-Star Wars prequel myth making. If I were kind, I’d try to whitewash it as comic book storytelling. If I were honest, I’d say it’s YA storytelling and not a particularly good example of the form either. Aside from a little extra grisliness and one werewolf sex scene ripped off wholesale from The Howling, this could be a Goosebumps book and not even a good one. The attempts to tie werewolfism to teen angst are pretty pathetic compared to Ginger Snaps, the forced mythology is too clichéd to register, and the romance doesn’t even hit the low standard of a Twilight knock off.
The acting is pretty horrible too, but it’s hard even to blame the actors. Sure, McHattie somehow lends creditability to this swill, but that’s just because he’s almost supernaturally talented as a character actor. As for everyone else, it’s hard to say how much of their cardboard caricature school play acting can be blamed on their own talents (or lack thereof) or the pitiful screenplay that gives them so little to work with. Either way, the movie feels like a soap opera with werewolves, not just because of the cornball cheese but also because of the model-posing-and-brow-furrowing-as-performance acting style.
Ultimately, the blame for Wovles’ failure has to fall onto the shoulders of first time director and longtime screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men, Watchmen, and oddly the voice of Solid Snake in all but the latest Metal Gear Solid game). The film feels like it was written to capitalize on the Twilight craze with a little extra werewolf violence thrown in. Unfortunately for Hayter, his film is arriving a little late to survive off the Twilight residue and isn’t nearly gory or scary enough (or at all) to tickle horror fans. It insults anyone other than tweens who likely won’t even notice that this thing exists. The only good part of the entire film is the practical werewolf make up that took design cues from Lon Chaney’s groundbreaking Wolf Man design.
The make up effects team definitely did their job well and there’s a certain amount of horror geek nostalgia to be had from simply admiring their handiwork. Unfortunately, even that doesn’t last. Hayter shows off his werewolves in full light early and often, so the mystique is gone long before anything resembling a climax arrives. When the wolves start fighting each other in clumsy action scenes, the results are straight up laughable. Hayter might have gotten away with that had he given Wolves a sense of humor, which one might expect from something a silly as a friggin’ werewolf movie. But nope, he plays all of his overwrought cheese completely straight and ends up with a big steaming mess that tries to offer something for everyone yet gives nothing to anyone. Wolves is easily one of the worst movies of the year, werewolf centric or otherwise.