Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Director: Joe Johnston
Running Time: 102 minutes
I like most people have never seen the original 1941 film ‘The Wolf Man’, so despite being a remake this subtly reworded film (notice the one word rather than two!) this film pretty much had a clean slate – however much Universal tried to mess it up by taking years to make it, struggling to find a director and having numerous re-edits!
I’m also not a massive horror fan – that is not to say I don’t like them, rather I won’t go out of my way to watch them – so you can take my word with slightly more validity than a horror addict that this was in fact an enjoyable film despite the at best mediocre reviews it has been getting.
But first: the story. The film starts with a classic horror midnight moonlight chase through a forest between a certain Ben Talbot and an unseen threat, which ultimately ends in Ben disappearing under ‘mysterious circumstances’. His fiancée Gwen Conliffe played by Emily Blunt then writes to his brother informing of his disappearance and requesting aid to help find him from which point the plot follows Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) as he returns to Talbot hall and the Victorian village it lies near.
Lawrence, having been sent to America as a child, was in the country as a travelling actor (who conveniently has an American accent, which the cynic in me thinks is because it saved a voice actor for Del Toro) and once he arrives they discover the body, or rather bits, of his brother which both sets a precedent set to continue and sets the story up nicely: a rogue Werewolf and out main character is the prime suspect.
All this is under the watchful eye of the father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) who manages to play the creepy/mysterious/unloving/generally odd character very well, although I am yet to work out whether or not that was due to great acting or the just general disjointed nature of the film but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
On the other hand Benicio manages to play the main character with as little emotion as possible which unfortunately makes it quite difficult to warm to, or even care about, him and in fact you are more drawn to the ex-fiancée Gwen who despite looking incredibly 21st Century at times manages to liven up the incredibly dull Victorian atmosphere – I can honestly not remember any time in the film where it is not night, misty or raining.
So far not all that bad, but nothing special. But the bit that I loved about this film is that it seems to have all the classic horror parts, but doesn’t seem to quite to be able to string them together that doesn’t seem either ironic or just amusing!
There is lots of mist (and I mean lots, it was absolutely everywhere, the novelty wore off after the first sequence), there’s stuffed animal heads accompanied by random animal noises, there’s flashbacks, there’s a surprisingly convincing London rooftop chase, there are some impressive sideburns (especially by the inspector played by sporadically and hopefully intentionally amusing Hugo Weaving), there’s is depressing piano music and there are lots of deaths… but it just doesn’t seem to work.
One of the main reasons for this is perhaps the excess of violence. Yes, every good horror film has a bit of blood and gore, but half of the ‘horror’ aspect is from the suspense and fear of violence and when people are getting ripped to pieces left right and centre it doesn’t quite have the same effect. The best example is when a man, trapped in a swamp, gets his head swiped off by the Wolfman leaving a squirting mount of blood and entrails – which prompted a sympathetic ‘oh’ from the cinema, followed by a few laughs!
Also the Wolfman himself was a bit of a disappointment; I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoiling it for you, but having seen the CGI offering from films like even Harry Potter they seem to have the edge on both scary-ness and even realism – mostly cause it’s hard to take something that you know to be a person in tonnes of makeup seriously.
The last little niggle that the film gave me was the interesting timescale that the film portrays – for a start lunar months seem to go incredibly quickly and every other scene is at full moon which is a little irritating although not unsurprising. Also at one point a man walks up from London to Yorkshire, and yet arrives only hours after a group going up on horses and in carriages – but seeing as there are Werewolves I’m not sure realism is really an option.
So should you go and see this film? Well if you love traditional horrors set in bleak Victorian England then this is definitely for you, and if you don’t (and don’t mind/like people being disembowelled or decapitated every so often) then I would still advise it as you will either find it ironic, or see it for the horror that it is supposed to be both of which go down as a success in my book!
A solid 3 ½ out of 5 from me!