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The Wolfman review

Rachel Winterbottom thinks Del Toro lacks bite

Written by . Published on February 17th 2010.


The Wolfman review

Based on the 1941 film, The Wolf Man, this remake comes hot on the tail (sorry) of the Twilight saga’s revitalising of this particular horror niche. Only there are no rippling pecks or teenage angst in The Wolfman, and not least because craggy faced Benicio Del Toro is the lead. Set in the 1800s, the dark, gothic world of Blackmoor is more Tim Burton than Stephanie Meyer. You don’t get to admire the cast’s bodies so much as find out what’s inside them.

Villagers, Londoners and gypsies alike are pealed apart like cheese string beneath the Wolfman’s impartial claws.

Actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returns to the home and family he’s been estranged from after receiving a letter from his brother’s fiancé pleading with him to investigate his sibling’s disappearance. When Talbot discovers that his brother’s body has been found mutilated in a ditch, the dogmatic locals think it might be gypsies.

In search of answers, and with the added bonus of pleasing his brother’s grieving – and conveniently hot – fiancé, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), Talbot heads into Blackmoor Woods to question the gypsies there. They warn him of a curse just in time for a monstrous wolf-creature to appear from the mist and slaughter most of the camp. Talbot wakes from the attack and makes a full recovery, much to the chagrin of the locals, who insist he now carries the mark of the wolf. Soon it’s all pitchforks and torches as the villagers hound Talbot and demand his death – whatever did they do before werewolves came to town?

Unfortunately, they turn out to have the right end of the (lit) stick. With every positive to his transformation – better hearing, more strength, the respect of the family dog – there is a negative. And as negatives go, murderous rampages aren’t the most offsetting. And that’s not all, in addition to his first monthly cycle, Talbot also has to contend with the shady goings-on at the family manor and a murky history replete with secrets and suicide.

Anthony Hopkins provides a lot of joy as Talbot’s widowed father, a character for which eccentricity was just a road marker on the way to lunacy. Sporting goggles and a leopard-skin scarf, he prowls Talbot Manor, shotgun in hand, his eyes dead to the musty, neglected territory he inhabits. He’s slightly more interesting than the watery-eyed Del Toro, who gurns his way through most of his lines as if this film is merely the audition piece for his role as Moe in The Three Stooges.

Hugo Weaving appears to relish his role as Inspector Aberline, who arrives on set to prove that Talbot is merely suffering from Luna lunacy (known to give a man the strength to bite off arms, apparently). Weaving’s eyebrows haven’t had this much fun expressing camp surprise since The Lord of the Rings.

One thing that The Wolfman has going for it is gratuitous violence. Men hop away screaming on their remaining limbs, women brandish gushing stumps where their arms used to be. Villagers, Londoners and gypsies alike are pealed apart like cheese string beneath the Wolfman’s impartial claws. However, unlike Peter Jackson's Braindead, there isn’t enough gore here to drive the plot.

Enter the love story, as inevitable (and inexplicable) as the film’s rolling mist. Unfortunately, Talbot and Gwen’s relationship seems to be built on one steamy game of skimming stones. Perhaps it’s some nineteenth century subtlety that doesn’t translate. Blunt plays the role of the beautiful grieving Gwen well enough, but there isn’t much scope to step beyond the boundaries of this role, and prove that the character is there to be something other than grieving hot totty.

With The Wolfman suffering delays due to the first director walking away from the project and with replacement director Joe Johnston’s last film being Hidalgo, the film did not get off to a promising start. It’s hardly surprising, but still disappointing, that this remake is as patchy in places as its production process.

Still, it’s all about the transformation. The 1941 Wolf Man may well have terrified audiences with his scant regard for the benefits of shaving and personal hygiene, but post-Teen Wolf, the half man/half wolf getup is about as terrifying as your average early morning commuter.

Makeup artist Rick Baker’s career has seen more wolves than Kevin Costner has danced with, including, of course, the great An American Werewolf in London. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but the CGI transformation in The Wolfman just doesn’t compare with the special effects makeup in Baker’s earlier films. It’s too rubbery, too perfect, too clean.

The best wolf films have taught us that man-to-wolf transition should be, at best, torturous, visceral and wet. The wolf should be dragged kicking and screaming out of the man, not seamlessly coaxed out via modern technology. And thanks to Being Human, any transformation that doesn’t involve vocal chords being ripped apart seems tame at best. Maybe for Baker, nostalgia wouldn’t be a bad thing.

In this one-tavern town, the gothic set design, gore and b-movie locals all speak of a loving homage to horror flicks of old, with a dash of early nineties body horror thrown in to boot. But all this effort is lost when the effects dominate the screen, with a garbled, CGI finale that forgets about the human beneath the wolf. Maybe this film was cursed from the off, but it could have been so much more.

5/10

The Wolfman (15) is on general release now.

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Lord of the PiesFebruary 25th 2010.

I saw this the other day.

Utter garbage if you ask me.

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