“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
The idea of a re-make of the Universal Studios classic, The Wolfman, undoubtedly sounded better in the pitch meeting than it did in execution. Updating the story for modern times, with modern effects, and positioned as an anti-Valentine’s Day movie, starring two stars who are eminently watchable and elevate anything they’re in, it seemed like a sure bet. Yet we are left with this joyless cinematic whimper in moonlight.
The Wolfman sets itself up as the story of a prodigal son, Lawrence Talbot (Benecio Del Toro), who has returns to his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), after the death of his brother, Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells). There is no fatted calf for his return, only blood, body parts, and the trappings of a mystery. The movie reminded me of a string of horror clichés strung together for two hours, a lesson in bad writing.
It begins with a violent opening scene meant to hook the audience. Opening scenes are meant to assure the audience that they are in good hands. A strong opening doesn’t have to mean an exciting bloodletting, it is just the promise of what’s in store (though, upon reflection, sadly, it delivers on what it promises in the opening. You basically get it for two hours). The movie then tells us the story rather than let it unfold—with heavy handed flashbacks which were the equivalent of narrative info dumps and at some points literally telling you what’s going on on-screen—and thus doesn’t give cast much to do.
Joe Johnston knows how to startle us with his jump cuts, but startle is as deep as the thrills get. There’s no escalating of tension, no depth of characterization to study, no layered plot to get lost in. There’s just the visceral [thrill] of chase, catch, kill. The music cues in the unlikely event that we missed anything, the aural equivalent of dripping blood on a book cover. At no point did this movie exactly go for subtle.
“There is no sin in killing a beast. Only a man. Where does one begin and the other end.” -Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin)
Werewolves are a classic horror trope. Similar to what we see with the creature Mr. Hyde, they are the monster, the beast, inside us. As lycanthropy is a disease passed from father to son, with echoes of Romans 6:6, we’re reminded that we have a corrupted self within us, a side, a nature, in us that we must tame, restrain, or kill. Still, we mustn’t let this view blind us to the fact that we were created in God’s image and instead teach us self-loathing.
“He can only be released by someone who loves him.” –Maleva
There was a man with two sons, both of whom he wanted to follow in his footsteps. The prodigal decided to live life on his own terms, while the other remained with his father. Soon, however, the road got rough and the prodigal ended up doing all sorts of things to survive, eventually hitting rock bottom. He realized that he had placed himself in that situation, prayed about it, and returned home. His father prepared a huge celebration for him in order to say “welcome home.” In other words, it is a story of ruin and reconciliation, a story of a spiritual journey.
“I have to save him … just tell me what to do.” –Gwen (Emily Blunt)
Whether we realize it or not, we’re all looking for a home where we could feel safe. A place of belonging and rest. Home. Ignoring the place of true love, combined with our need to fill our inner hole, causes us to look elsewhere. The deepest cravings of our hearts demands to be filled, enabling addictions. Our lostness makes us cling to different things to find (self) fulfillment. In God we have an invitation to intimacy, to a safe place to call home. We have a nearly instinctual resistance to him. Our independence, our need to control, prevents us from coming to our senses and falling to our knees. Unwilling to dare to let myself kneel down and be held by a loving God. To believe in the promise of forgiveness. Healing. Wholeness. Love redeems. Love reminds us of our true selves. Love sets us free. Love puts the old man, the beast within us, to death.
“If such things exist…then everything is.” –Gwen
The Wolfman proves to be a mishmash of themes with none truly explores [the movie sets us an examination of a clash of worldviews—the villagers are backwards and foolish (Christian), the gypsies superstitious and speak of curses (pagan), and the inspectors with their scientific method (modern) and does nothing with it]. Not that I need some heavy meditation on the human condition, but, frankly, that’s one of the points of the werewolf trope. Instead we get a visceral production of limbs, torsos, and intestines strewn all over the screen (heedless of the fact that increased graphic violence doesn’t create chills), that attempts to get by on loud, boo moments. There was a scene beginning with Lawrence’s time in an asylum that had potential for some true horror, but the producers squandered it. One measure of a werewolf movie is by their transformation scenes (one of many reasons An American Werewolf in London was so great). The Wolfman provides great ones that look especially painful. Other than that, we’re left with fast cuts, special effects, and stylishly costumed thespians with little to do beyond their three faces of tortured, anguished, or afraid. In a word: meh.