The Wolfman (6/10)

The best horror films showcase a masterful manipulation of the balance between that perverse desire of expectantly waiting and wanting for something awful to occur and the mounting terror that builds as you hope that the characters you care for don’t fall prey to some evil of the night. “The Wolfman,” for a time, walks this line pretty carefully, but through some awkward and cliched plotting devices devolves all-too soon into that devilish pitfall of an monster movie – it’s more about the gross-goodiness of the monster than the humanity of the man.

And to be sure, there is much of that juicy flesh-ripping action that any horror fan loves, but it is the context in which it appears that cheapens the horror and capitalizes on the scares. Lawrence (Benicio del Toro) has just returned to his estranged father’s (Anthony Hopkins) cavernously dark mansion, on the news of his brother’s death by a mysterious half-man, half-beast creature. As he investigates into the death, he grows closer to Gwen (Emily Blunt), his brother’s widow, while an overly curious policeman, Aberline(Hugo Weaving), starts an investigation of his own.

However, to call it an investigation may be too generous. Both Lawrence and Aberline always happen to be in exactly the right (or wrong) place at exactly the right (or wrong) time, so the tension of waiting for a monster attack to occur is diluted. The scenes are always too clearly telegraphed by dark and creepy lighting or mountingly spooky music scored by Danny Elfman (not exactly known for his subtlety). And that’s the main problem with “The Wolfman”: not enough mystery, no terrifying fear of the unknown haunting the frames. When Lawrence morphs into the wolfman, it is a special effect, something to relish and admire, not something of awful unreality of which to be frightened. In spite of this, though, the movie is able to function on a more popcorn-entertaining level, due in part to a couple of master casting strokes and a couple of other serviceably reliable ones.

Benicio del Toro as the titular wolfman spends a lot of time looking morose and horrified, but there’s little else the script requires him to do, and he is really quite good at doing both. Sure it’s a bit one note, but it works for the movie. The same can’t be said for Emily Blunt and her awkward romance that’s been shoehorned into a movie bubbling over with testosteronic violence and gore. She shares zero chemistry with del Toro and mostly just serves as a pretty face.

And then we come to the two actors who steal the movie right out from underneath del Toro and Blunt’s noses. Anthony Hopkins is always a good choice, and here he exudes a quiet menace and self-assured craziness that are more scary than any of the random “boo!” shots director Joe Johnston gives us. Hugo Weaving’s performance is fascinating and actually easy to sympathize with – as he searches for the answers to this mysterious case his desperation is tangible, and his very acting ability seems to mutate his character into the hero of the tale, as opposed to the villain, which the script certainly wants us to think of him as.

Joe Johnston certainly knows how to make us jump, but he fails to see what is truly frightening. The scares in the movie are easy and predictable, but the acting is a step above par, and the creature effects look pretty grotesquely neat. The mood is very dark, gothic, and somber, but the well-executed action and transformation sequences are fairly thrilling. You’ll be entertained, but it’s doubtful anything will really scare you.

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One Response to “The Wolfman (6/10)”

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