Directed by Joe Johnston
Woof, woof. A mere fifteen months late, Universal Studios difficult homage to its fine pedigree of horror pictures finally limps howling into the multiplexes, for a genre fan such as yours truly a contemporary update of the classic The Wolfman is something of a mouth-watering prospect, the producers giving a story credit to the original Curt Siodmak 1941 script demonstrating an affinity to the sacred source material that aims to placate the entire pack of growling fan-boys. There are some tasty morsels amongst the detritus but alas gentle reader the re-boot of The Wolfman is a dog’s dinner of a movie. OK, OK, I hear you, enough of the canine metaphors already eh?? Don’t rub my nose in it…Blackmoor, Northern England, 1891. After his brother is torn to pieces on the moors surrounding the decrepit family mansion Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is recalled home by his brother’s fiancé Gwen Conlife (Emily Blunt) to determine what caused his horrific death. Lawrence, an actor who fled the family home many years ago still suffers an antagonistic relationship with the family patriarch Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins coughing scenery fragments left, right and centre) after he saw his mother die in front of him as a child, the circumstances of her death remaining deeply suspicious. The terrified locals and a local Gypsy encampment whisper of a monstrosity of supernatural proportions roaming aboard when the moon is full, Lawrence eventually falling under the legendary beasts curse after an attack leaves him injured and infected with a lycanthropic blasphemy, his affliction bringing him under the suspicion of policeman Frederick Abberline, the very same investigator of the recent Ripper case, just one of the undeveloped, uncertain plot threads and allusions that are left dangling like the entrails of a eviscerated peasant. It gets pretty hairy…
As expected given its torturous production history the movie is a mess but thankfully not a dud of Van Helsing proportions, it’s a handsome looking film but the interference and mangling of the material, as with The Road, is plain to see. For genre fans there is enough to enjoy – it is surprisingly gory and the great Rick Bakers exemplary creature effects provide the necessary thrills that you’d expect from such a project, the blend of CGI and in-camera make-up is almost seamless. Del Toro certainly has the primal demeanour that the lead in such a film demands but all too often he looks like he’s wandered in shot from another movie being made next door, he’s a bit too uncertain and uncomfortable in the role which doesn’t quite convince. Emily Blunt on the other hand I could watch with a bag on her head although she is given very little to do, her sudden and unrealistic attraction to Lawrence not being given any semblance of credulity even in such an unrealistic, Gothic fiction tale. The strengths reside in the production design, it has a pungent texture of this mythical, cinema-derived era with some evocative costume design from Milena Canonero and the shadowy, gloomy antediluvian landscapes of ruined chateaus and nervous, fog shrouded villages.
It was interesting to see the likes of Walter Murch crop up on the final credits, an editorial ‘fixer’ that one assumes was brought in to salvage a coherent tale from the messy coverage that leaps from scene to scene with very little in the way of any sort of robust plot trajectory. There are faint traces of a more aggressive and nuanced script from Andrew David Walker – the scribe behind Se7en – including references to Hamlet (which Lawrence is performing as the film opens) and the aforementioned Jack The Ripper allusions that could have provoked a host of compelling connections, unfortunately all the ingredients of a man whose animatistic lust for his siblings paramour must be punished are suffocated by the shift to the banal action beats which, whilst entertaining, can’t redeem the films overwhelming failures. In the final analysis the most interesting elements of the film will reside on the DVD and Blu-Ray extras where I’m sure the technicians of various stripes will wax lyrical on the influences that the original wrought on this unfortunate runt, there is a enjoyable cameo from of David Schofield (the village snitch in An American Werewolf in London) and Geraldine Chaplin (whom I’d wager had most of her part as a Gypsy Seer consigned to the cutting room floor), the creature design is clearly a direct update on the original for the 21st century, all these facets of course do not overcome the butchered plot and thoroughly predictable, truncated final sequences.
– John McEntee