Since vampires are the chic supernatural creature of the moment, it's nice to see werewolves getting some love. And despite being based loosely on the classic monster movie, "The Wolf Man" is surprisingly well-made and suspenseful horror-action story, draped in grey light, decayed backdrops and a growing sense of tragedy. Think of this as the "anti-Twilight."
Lawrence Talbot (Benecio del Toro) receives a letter from his brother Ben's fiancee Gwen (Emily Blunt), telling him that Ben has vanished. By the time he arrives, his brother's body has been found.
However, the body was so horribly mutilated that Lawrence is determined to figure out what killed his brother (especially since coming home has triggered some nasty flashbacks to how his mom died). While investigating Ben's last days at a local gypsy camp, Lawrence witnesses dozens of being people slaughtered by a monstrous wolflike creature. When he tries to kill it, it bites him -- and he nearly dies of blood loss and fever.
Fortunately, Lawrence quickly heals from his wounds. But Scotland Yard's Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) and the local villagers suspect that Lawrence himself either is a deranged maniac, or has acquired the curse of the "beast" (especially since he's completely healed). And on the night of the full moon, Lawrence discovers that there's some truth to those wolf-man superstitions -- and that his curse comes from someone very close to him.
Ivy-draped crumbling mansions, grey skies over the moors, rainy London streets, misty stone circles and a forest haunted by a beast-man (or two). "The Wolf Man" is soaked in gloomy gothic atmosphere from beginning to end, until you almost feel like choking on all the gloom and greyness. In fact, the entire movie is like that -- it's SO relentlessly dark that it could give you SADS.
And the storyline matches the gloomy atmosphere. Director Joe Johnston swings between haunting gothic suspense and gory gutsplattering action; the actual werewolf isn't very scary looking, but all the bloody dismemberment and lightning-fast attacks ARE very scary. To top it off, Johnston peppers the story with spooky flashbacks and some eerie hallucinations popping up to scare us out of our seats (including a wolf-boy who looks like Gollum). Fortunately Johnston also inserts some quiet, romantic moments for Gwen and Lawrence, especially that adorable stone-skipping scene.
Downside? The asylum tortures and the whole "audience" scene were flashy and silly, and it feels like they were tacked in there for MGP (Maximum Gore Potential). Fortunately the movie settles back into its groove once everyone returns to Blackmoor, just in time for a harrowing climax of silver bullets, fire, and family strife.
As for the actors, the movie rests on a solid square of them -- Benecio del Toro is a truly brilliant, tragic protagonist, whose entire life is turning into a nightmarish spiral of death and misery. Blunt is a delicate English rose with a core of steel; Anthony Hopkins is heartily creepy as del Toro's sociopathic dad. And Hugo Weaving is, as always, brilliant as a hard-edged inspector who is determined to bring down Lawrence no matter what he is ("We wouldn't have any silver bullets?").
"The Wolf Man" is a solid antidote to the drippily romantic werewolf/vampire stories out now -- it's grey, gothic, monstrous and ultimately heartrending. A solid horror movie, but rather heavy to digest.