In the past six months, we’ve been treated to two major films about werewolves: The Twilight Saga’s New Moon and this, The Wolfman. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that New Moon would be the superior film on the subject, and never would I have considered Taylor Lautner (hardly a master thespian) more adept at portraying a tormented soul than Benicio Del Toro. The only thing scary about Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman is that it exists. The fact that people, nay professionals, spent several years working on this picture genuinely upsets me. Even worse is the knowledge that audiences around the world will surrender two of their precious hours as well as some of their hard earned money to endure this stillborn mess.
Benicio Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a celebrated actor from the London stage who returns to his childhood home following the untimely murder of his brother. It is ironic that Benicio Del Toro should play an actor in this film, because by the time the final credits rolled, I wasn’t even sure that Benicio himself was an actor. Lodging with his father (Anthony Hopkins) and his late brother’s fiancée (the always reliable Emily Blunt), Lawrence pledges to find the man responsible for his brother’s death. The thing is, his killer is not a man at all, but a Wolfman! Soon enough, Lawrence too is bitten by the roaming werewolf, and finds himself also transforming into a hideous beast every full moon.
I can’t even begin to comprehend what Del Toro thinks he is doing in this movie. He shuffles through the motions as if playing a particularly charmless version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He doesn’t even attempt an English accent, instead seemingly taking acting cues from The Room’s Tommy Wiseau. At the very least, all that was required of him was to seem human in contrast to the beast that lives within. Acting like a natural human being has never seemed like such an onerous task.
Joe Johnston’s Wolfman was not always Joe Johnston’s Wolfman. Mark Romanek was originally slated to direct, but left the project due to creative differences in February of 2008. Then Johnston was brought aboard and the film was set to hit cinemas November 2008. This release date changed FOUR times, eventually landing (with a thud) in February 2010. Rumours of re-cuts and endless edits pervaded much of the film’s post-production. But that’s fine with me. If a film is good, I couldn’t care less about its troubled production. But The Wolfman is not good. Not even close. It’s a hatchet job, and it shows. The film seems to be completely aware of its own awfulness; it’s in a hurry to wrap itself up from the opening credits onwards. Characters are not developed far beyond their introduction; in fact, you’ll be hard pressed to even remember any of their names.
The entire project reeks of slapdash construction (plenty of supposedly spooky sound effects have clearly been added on top of scenes where they are not required; lazy, last-minute narration has been chucked in to help link one moment to another). The ability to compose a sequence with a variety of shots so that the viewer can understand what is happening seems to elude the editor(s). In one instance, Del Toro hears a voice in one of the manor’s many empty rooms. He ducks his head in, where he begins to flashback to his days as a boy. Cut to Del Toro getting into bed, where he once again has another flashback. Then cut to Del Toro closing the door he opened previously. Wait, what? I thought he was in bed! Was that part of the flashback? If so, why would he flashback to an insignificant event mere moments in the future? Come on guys, this is the first thing they teach you in Editing 101 – cut things together so they make sense!
There is no story here. Literally, no story. A man turns into a werewolf, and then what? It’s not scary enough to be an ethereal slasher film, and it’s nowhere near profound enough to address any of the inherit issues of the original, classic tale. Characters make decisions with seemingly no motivation. The creature designs (from the great Rick Baker) are impressive, but more often than not the Wolfman himself is a CG construction, and about as scary as a bunch of cats taped together. Worst of all, the film is drab, lifeless and boring. Halfway through the screening I attended, during one of the reel changes, the film began to be projected halfway down the screen. For almost 10 minutes, we could only see the tops of the characters heads. By this point, I was far too bored to muster any response other than mild inconvenience in having to slightly lower the direction of my eyes. It seems even the projectionist had fallen asleep. When the picture was corrected, no one in the audience cheered.