The Wolfman looks great thanks to some wonderful photography but Rick Baker’s great make-up effects fail to gloss over the film’s distinct lack of thrills.
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Released: 2010 / Genre: Romance/Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
I was more intrigued by the thought of Rick Baker (the man who created the mesmerising special make-up effects in John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London) being involved in The Wolfman remake than either Benicio del Toro in the lead role or Jurassic Park III director Joe Johnston behind the camera. And Baker doesn’t disappoint as the man-monster who preys on townsfolk at full moon looks great when Johnston focuses on the live action effects as opposed to the computer generated kind. But that shouldn’t sound too damning on director Johnston who, despite making a film that has its flaws in both plot and character, beautifully recreates late 19th century England in a washed out haze that duly stirs the senses in an atmosphere of foreboding menace.
The Wolfman, a remake of the Universal Pictures classic from 1941 that starred Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Bela Lugosi, sticks true to the premise of the original before elaborating on the plot and embarking on a wholly new story. The 2010 reincarnation sees the world-renowned actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) return to his family’s estate following the death of his brother. Lawrence views the mauled body of his brother and, deeply shocked, sets out to discover who could have murdered him. It becomes clear a beast is stalking the townsfolk and Lawrence gets caught in one of its attacks. He survives but is bitten by the monster. At the next full moon Lawrence transforms into a werewolf and goes on a murderous rampage. When he turns back into human form he is handed over to the police by his estranged father Sir John (Sir Anthony Hopkins). Bathed in blood, Lawrence is arrested for all the murders and taken to a mental asylum in London. The doctors believe him to be insane but come the next full moon, Lawrence’s newly acquired thirst for human flesh promises to change the prescription.
The film was originally announced in 2006 with Benicio del Toro in the lead role. Del Toro had been a lifelong fan of the original film and always wanted to play the role made famous by Lon Chaney Jr. In The Wolfman he brings with him an air of well-travelled experience, playing the famous actor Lawrence Talbot. But, the inherent pain of which he suffers over witnessing the gruesome death of his mother, which prompted him to leave the family estate, is far too mechanical. Perhaps Lawrence is too ordinary for an actor of del Toro’s quirky charm. It therefore feels staged and is about as authentic as the supposed father-son relationship between Puerto Rican del Toro and Welshman Sir Anthony Hopkins.
But The Wolfman does look fantastic. From the production design to the special-effects to Shelly Johnson’s wonderful photography, the film looks the part. If nothing else, you know you are watching a film budgeted at $150 million. And, while del Toro fails to bring any energy to the film, Hopkins and Hugo Weaving most definitely do. Hopkins is his usual self, suave and sophisticated in everything he does with a slight riff on that old Hannibal Lector menace. Weaving is excellent as Inspector Aberline, playing a sort of tough-nut Sherlock Holmes without the sidekick.
But neither actor can make up for the film’s distinct lack of thrills. There are moments of panic-induced excitement – the sequence when Lawrence first gets bitten and his break out from the asylum are fast-paced eye-candy – but director Johnston appears far too hurried in his lead-up to the film’s more extravagant moments, forgetting to build suspense. It therefore comes as little surprise that the film found its release date constantly pushed back as the filmmakers tweaked the story. The film’s huge budget might account for it looking like the horror film it wants to be, but it fails to gloss over its failures in technique.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews
This review is part of 31 Days of Horror: