Visually, The Wolfman gets a lot of things right, from fog-filled forests and sinister mansions to terrifying transformations and gruesome gore. Paying heavy tribute to Lon Chaney’s 1941 classic (titled The Wolf Man – Johnston’s remake switched to The Wolfman), this latest vision of the beastly half-man, half-wolf monstrosity offers remarkable makeup and creature effects (while oddly using many unimaginative fades, long shots, and transitions) and also keeps a tight pacing that moves briskly into the expected werewolf rampages but leaves little time for character development. In fact, the multiple moon time lapse sequences effectively parallel the abnormally speedy feel of the film. At least director Joe Johnston allows his exceptional cast to work their magic even if the shaky plotline doesn’t perform as admirably.
Upon hearing of his brother Ben’s mysterious disappearance, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) travels to his estranged father’s (Anthony Hopkins) estate in England. Once there, he learns that his brother’s mutilated body was found nearby and promises Ben’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) that he won’t rest until he finds the killer. But his promise soon leads him down a nightmarish path of secrets, lies, and ungodly abominations when he is attacked by a vicious beast and begins a series of terrifying transformations into an accursed creature with an insatiable appetite for destruction.
The harder The Wolfman tries to be serious, the sillier it becomes. The extreme violence, over-the-top bloodshed, entertaining cast and excellent performances ensure that the film is always thrilling, even when the jump scares are predictable and the story tired. Almost comical at times, this werewolf saga sticks to a refreshingly classic look, with a mostly upright beast, the perfect setting and one unique twist. When werewolves are involved in film, the transformation sequence is almost always an attempt to outdo all predecessors, and Rick Baker’s makeup and CG effects are reminiscent of both George Waggner’s version and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. At least it’s a simultaneously updated and old-fashioned take on werewolves and the beast in all of us, a satisfying departure from the cursed spirits and demonic possessions of late. “The past is a wilderness of horrors,” Hopkins asserts, as if to elude to the power and ferocity of the classic horror pictures.
At one point The Wolfman touches upon deeper emotions and moral dilemmas, including suicide, regret, damnation, revenge, religion, freedom and pity. It could have been a more profound examination of the lycanthropy curse, but instead resolves in a cathartic moment of entrail-splattering vengeance. All is not lost when considering the wonderfully macabre sets, such as the Talbot estate, an enormous, desolate and decrepit castle, decorated with grimacing animal heads and thick cobwebs and lit entirely by dim candles. Add to that the neighboring murky woods full of loud noises and distracting birds and you’ve got the perfect atmosphere for monster movie mayhem.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)