Howling at “The Wolfman”

Gwen (Emily Blunt) discovers it’s a scary world in “The Wolfman.” (Image courtesy Universal Pictures)

There’s lots to be scared about in the Wolfman world. After a while it actually gets a little hard to remember the entire list of people and things fingered as potential dangers in Joe Johnston’s lush remake of the Lon Chaney classic frightener.

Let’s see: werewolves of course, quickly followed by gypsies, bears, villagers, (both commoners and gentry,) police officers, mentally ill people, scientists, psychiatrists and fathers. Oh, and standing stones are creepy too. It’s all quite exhausting because “The Wolfman” is chock-a-block with worrying weirdness.

Sadly that’s about as deep as this film gets.

The plot is set in 1891 at Blackmoore, a rundown estate in England where long absent son Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) returns after hearing of the mysterious and bloody death of his brother. The locals suspect a performing bear, but Lawrence’s father Sir John (played with chilling smile by Anthony Hopkins) seems to know it may be something much more unsettling. Laurence begins to delve into the mystery even as he finds himself falling for Gwen, his late brother’s lady friend (Emily Blunt.)

As the fog draws in around the estate and the full moon begins its ascent, it’s clear something supernatural, and clawed, is stalking the grounds.

Director Johnson plays the gothic horror to the max, creating a candlelit world where dangers lurk in every shadow. Yet “The Wolfman” doesn’t add anything to the werewolf story other than thoroughly modern gore-splashing. That is a shame, because lycanthropy, to give werewolfism its scientific name, would seem to be an area which could do with a 21st century re-analysis.

The film looks amazing, but just for once wouldn’t it be great to have a horror movie where people don’t decide to go for a stroll to explore werewolf habitat just as the full moon is rising. Or where police officers cock their eyebrows and tersely ask each other “I don’t suppose we have any silver bullets?”

Del Toro doesn’t bring much to the role of Lawrence other than a close resemblance to Lon Chaney at certain points in the film. It’s also a little distracting that he has an American accent (explained by the claim he’s been working as an actor in the US for years,) while his father sports a Welsh lilt, and the village seems filled with transplanted Londoners. It just never quite gels.

Many years ago my mother told me the real reason for scary movies was actually to give people on dates an excuse to hold each other just a little tighter. So perhaps that’s the real reason to go see “The Wolfman.” Happy Valentines day……

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