If you go into the Wolfman expecting a tightly-woven, scary horror film, you might be disappointed. However, if you go into expecting a fun, slightly (intentionally) campy homage to the horror movies of yesteryear, you're likely to have a blast.
The Wolfman centers around one John Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), an actor who returns to his haunting childhood home after his brother goes missing. Inhabiting the old mansion with him are his father John (Anthony Hopkins), his brother's fiance Gwen (Emily Blunt), and his father's manservant Singh (Art Malik). It's here he discovers that dastardly, vile acts have been taking place under the full moon. A mythical beast, a Gypsy dancing bear, or a deranged lunatic - depending on who you talk to - has been taking the lives of locals in an extremely gruesome fashion.
Early on in the movie we're introduced to Inspector Aberline of Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving), who remains criminally underused throughout the movie. That's not to say he's not in there a lot, he is, but not enough for a character this amazing. He also presented a problem. Who do I root for? Inspector Abberline or Lawrence Talbot? Abberline is simply doing his job and protecting the people of England, while Talbot is the victim of a curse he never asked for. It's a much more interesting conflict than "stoic lawman versus murderous beast."
Let me get this out of the way: The Wolfman is not a horror movie. It has a few scares thrown in, but is far from scary. It also has a few suspenseful scenes, but not enough to call it a suspenseful movie. What it is is a supernatural thriller, which works just as well. It isn't entirely without it's chills. Every aspect of the movie, from the atmosphere to the acting to the effects, is almost unbearably creepy. It might not scare the pants off of you, but it will make you uneasy. Especially the violence, which is gory and over-the-top in all the right ways.
The Wolfman is more of a character study about a man who is turning into a mythical creature. For the most part, Del Toro does a fascinatingly subtle job. There were a few lines here and there that could've been delivered better. Perhaps he was just out of his element, because he didn't seem all that comfortable playing Lawrence Talbot. Like he wasn't exactly sure how to go about playing a man who, roughly one night a month, turns into a beast and murders uncontrollably. Though in the end, I think that uncertainty is what made his performance so great. The first time he wakes up from his little outing, he's covered in blood, shredded clothing, and is visibly shocked. How else would he be?
I have to give special praise to Rick Baker and his glorious practical effects. Perhaps they were too cheesy for some, but they helped cement the movie's place among the classic horror movies rather than the recent CGI-laden trash that has been hitting cinemas. There are bits of CGI throughout, and those moments are definitely hit and miss, but the makeup was top notch. This is the man who worked on Harry and the Hendersons, for crying out loud.
The Wolfman is not without its problems. It probably should have been scarier, though it worked out in the end. There also seems to be some serious timeline tomfoolery, with months passing like days, but I'll admit I was having so much fun that I didn't even notice at first. If you're satisfied with thrills and chills rather than outright scares, you'll have a howling good time.
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