Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno
Written by Juan Martinez Moreno
Ah, the classic werewolf creature. It is one of the vintage, most fondly remembered beasts made famous by Universal Studios back in the earlier days when cinema was but in its infancy. The first classic actor to portray the role? Lon Chaney Jr., whose performance, both with and without makeup, has remained etched in the memories of monster movie fans old and young. Since then, the werewolf’s cinematic record is spotty at best. For every The Wolf Man is a Wolfman (2010, Joe Johnston). For every American Werewolf in London, there is an American Werewolf in Paris. Is the creature that limiting as a storytelling device? Perhaps, but blessed be the filmmakers who come along and create what proves to be one of the successes, among them Spaniard Juan Martinez Moreno with his latest, Game of Werewolves.
Tomàs Marino (Gorka Otxoa) considers himself a celebrity, although he would have a world of difficulty convincing many other people. An author, he is struggling to come up with ideas for his second novel, the first having quickly been forgotten in the minds of the public, at least among the few who actually read it as his grandmother (Mabel Rivera) reminds him over the phone at the start of the picture. Tomàs is on his way back to the small village where he grew up, Arga, far outside any of Spain’s metropolis, Madrid. The plan is to take refuge in the family’s old estate, be quiet for a few weeks or months and start writing again. Much to his surprise, his old buddy Calisto (Carlos Areces) awaits him for a warm welcome. Among other surprises is the arrival of his publisher, Mario (Secun de la Rosa), a wily, spirited man who seems just as desperate to make a buck with what he hopes will be Tomàs’ next book, as well as a re-acquaintance with his uncle, the village priest. The latter invites Tomàs for a special ceremony involving the bringing in of a new mayor, but that, in truth, hides yet another unexpected twist. On the day of the celebration, both Tomàs and Mario, because the latter is a witness, are knocked out cold and brought to a decrepit old church where the townsfolk, as Tomàs’s uncle explains, are to finally rid themselves of the curse of the werewolf which has plagued Arga for 100 years to the day. If the beast eats the flesh of a Marino, then Arga is freed of the monster’s reign of terror. Not exactly the creative thinking process the author had in mind…
There is a lot to commend Juan Martinez Moreno’s film for, especially given that it so thoroughly trounces the many of its deficiencies. Describing them as deficiencies is somewhat harsh, for they all stem from the singular entity, that is, the script, hence ‘deficiency’ shall suffice. To criticize the script of a werewolf film seems like one is hunting for problems to complain about, but Moreno’s text does leave itself wide open for some serious questions stemming from some loopy storytelling logic. For one, why is it that Tomàs’s friend, Calisto, is not either forced to participate in the sacrificial ceremony along with the other townsfolk or at least dispatched with before the decisive hour? Leaving him be at his home obviously leaves the door wide open for him to come to Tomàs’ assistance later on, which he promptly does. Equally troubling is how easily the protagonist’s uncle is willing to have his own nephew killed. One would think that a family bond would encourage the uncle to form an alliance with Tomàs, yet strangely no such thing occurs. There is also the matter of the publisher, Mario, who inexplicably makes an appearance to discuss business with his client. This character is introduced only moments after the film has made abundantly clear that Tomàs’ initial endeavour in the literary world was an utter catastrophe. Why is he here then? What profit does he hope to obtain with a second-rate author? The script provides no logical reason for this whatsoever. One can read into the film that perhaps Mario is on hard times and is willing to take another chance on Tomàs, but that is merely intuitive interpretation on the part of the viewer.
To film’s tremendous credit, all those script details are completely obliterated by the fun factor element, which, hyperbole aside, is sky high. Yes, sky high. Game of Werewolves may just be one of the most entertaining werewolf film in decades and possibly one of the most entertaining, memorable, funny, adventurous monster movies of the past few years. The questions raised above can be answered with flippant throw away excuses and, quite frankly, no one would bat an eye because director Juan Martinez Moreno has the entire audience either laughing or simply a great time admiring the action, horror and the lovable characters, including the ones for which we are still uncertain why they exist.
Game of Werewolves seems to correct the mistakes committed by another very recent werewolf film, The Wolfman. A film with great potential, from its director to its star-studded cast, it fell flat on its face, primarily because it was caught up in taking its own story and mythological backstory too seriously. In Game, the mythology is used as a stepping stone to introduce both the story and the light the match that causes all the fun to erupt like a volcano. It is setup, either serving as a building block and, at one point, turned on its head when the curse detailed in the movie’s lovingly drawn opening sequence, is proven to be but one half of the real overarching curse. In neither of these instances is the movie bogged down in plot, a mistake committed by a few too many films these days. They merely move the action forward. Speaking of action, there is a boatload in Game, from the very moment the film’s initial beast makes its presence known all the way to the end when the village of Arga is literally overrun by werewolves, which itself is uncommon in films involves this fury and ferocious antagonist. Special mention goes to the costume and makeup artists who create very evil, highly detailed and eerie looking howling hunters. These are among the best looking werewolves ever, which is important because were the antagonists themselves taken for complete jokes as well, then there really would be no sense of threat whatsoever, thus cancelling out the pervasive sense of adventure.
Even though this is a monster movie, director Moreno is careful not to embellish the horror aspects. Obviously, seeing people turn into gigantic, roaring monsters capable of ripping a human’s limbs off in the blink of an eye is horrifying, but Game rarely feels like a genuine horror movie. It is far more akin to an action adventure film involving monsters. Gore is splattered, but not profusely. In truth, the effect of having a high number of werewolves in the film’s final act is attenuated by the fact that most were originally elderly folk, which might explain why many of them go down with relative ease from single bullet wounds or careless car driving and in some cases, punches. It evens the odds for the protagonists, of which there is only a precious handful. There are at least a few terrific scenes worthy of special mention for those seeking some chills, the highlight being when Tomàs and Mario, unfortunately cast as lambs to the slaughter down a dark underground layer, come across the sleeping ground of the cursed werewolf. Moreno films the sequence beautifully, with a some very nice touches in how the very first transformation from human to creature is depicted on screen. Another involves that very same werewolf, having now fled the confines of its restrictive lair, turning on some of the townsfolk, with delightful bodily harm ensuing.
The trio of leads, Gorka Otxoa, Carlos Areces and Secun de la Rosa have tremendous rapport with each other, leading to a bevy of wildly entertaining scenes. One can complain all they like about the inclusion of the publisher character, Secun de la Rosa is above and beyond capable of lightening an already amusing mood with great quips. The movie also relishes in some physical comedy and arguably takes the cake when it comes to hilarious scenes involves severed body parts. It seems doubtful anything will top the ‘finger scene’ in Game anytime soon.
Game of Werewolves is not as scary as one might assume, but let that not detract anyone from taking a chance on it. It is replete with fun. Laughs abound, as does impressive action and some of the most convincing werewolf makeup to be captured on screen in some time.