The Wolfman: Plenty of bark, but no bite

Katerina Webb-Bourne 18 February 2010

Katerina Webb-Bourne is disappointed by a film that doesn’t know if it’s a true horror or a camp pastiche

The Wolfman – 1hr 42mins, 15

3/5

The Wolfman had a particularly troublesome transformation from script to screen; the director was changed just before shooting began, and there were many rumoured re-shoots, all of which resulted in severe delays before the film’s release.

However, my high hopes for a ripping yarn were not completely destroyed. The atmospheric trailer, and a stellar cast, which included Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving and Emily Blunt, were both encouraging signs. But what appeared on screen before me was not the impressive beast I expected; instead I was treated to a whimpering wolf with a less than terrific howl.

The tale is set in nineteenth century England, and opens with Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) being called home by his brother’s fiance (Emily Blunt) to help uncover the mystery surrounding his sibling’s disappearance. Having been estranged from his family since his youth, and upon discovering his brother died in usual circumstances, Lawrence is compelled to stay and investigate.

Immersed in gypsy legend, and housed in his decaying childhood home, Lawrence comes face to face with a dreaded werewolf and is bitten. What follows is race against time, to see whether Blunt can save his soul or whether he will fall prey to the truly sinister creature lurking on the moors.

The picture begins promisingly and, as the infamous werewolf legend is recited, you can feel the hairs rise on the back of your neck. Screenwriter Andrew Walker successfully transfers his experience of crafting creepy tales like Sleepy Hollow, and creates a tense, short and sharp opening.

Unfortunately, this is not maintained and the tone of the picture varies wildly. One moment it seems to be a traditional haunted house horror, with a werewolf stalking the dilapidated grounds. Then in the next frame it veers towards a more mythical tale. Before that idea has developed, we move on yet again, to see Del Toro psychologically terrorised as he is imprisoned in Lambeth Asylum, tortured by the ghosts of his past.

Like the wolfman himself, the film has a split identity, but it fails to carry off each transformation quite as well. Presumably this is the result of all those re-shoots. There are moments where the film provides flashes of a genuine fright fest along the lines of the old Hammer Horrors. The most memorable sequence is that of Del Toro’s sickness before his first full moon; the changing phases are used to signal the passing of time and prove to be especially hypnotic.

Del Toro’s performance is equally captivating and we do come to feel for his tortured soul just as much as Blunt’s Gwen. However, neither their romance nor her character are given enough screen time for it all to be completely convincing.  They do much better then Hopkins though, who is unsuccessful in maintaining a consistent performance, and by the end he appears to being revelling in the hammy, villainous side of his character.

The mood is eclipsed by this, and by clunky and under-developed plot elements. The twist is illuminated far too early, when the shadowy nature of the Talbot family’s past is revealed midway. The loose ends are lazily concluded in a battle of the beasts, wolf versus wolf and father versus son in a giant furry smack down.

The movie may have got away with such an uninspired ending if the effects were merely half as impressive as they should have been. However, neither of these wolf-men looked like particularly fearsome beasts, rather more overgrown hairy dogs. The old tension-building maxim was ignored, so that once the creature emerged from the shadows, the fear factor was completely lost.

A shame when such beautiful and horrifying detail was put into the horrible mutation of the human body, and the copious amounts of gore strewn across the screen. At times the audience would be truly uncomfortable but then by the next scene one would leave one struggling to stifle a laugh, as the mood hovered a bit too close to Carry on Screaming.

In essence, The Wolfman is too cheesy to become a horror movie classic. It is entertaining enough to avoid being labelled a howler, but simply lacks that fearsome, final bite.

The Wolfman is now showing at Vue Cinemas

Katerina Webb-Bourne