Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Film: Review - The Wolfman

As mythical creatures go, we seem to have been overwhelmed in the last few years: centaurs and unicorns from the Narnia and Potter-verses, goblins and beasts to give children nightmares in The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Dark Is Rising and angst-ridden teenage vampires in The Twilight Saga.

With all these children's' films around you might be fooled into thinking these creatures of the night aren't scary; The Wolfman changes all that.

From the opening giving a chilling recitation of the werewolf legend, the film embraces the clich├ęs and preconceptions of Gothic horror to set its scene. Foggy moorland – check, continuously murky and rainy weather – check, an isolated village overlooked by a looming manor house surrounded by forest – check. What could go wrong?

Amongst the trees a lone man treks through the fogged woods, with only a lantern for protection you can guess how well he gets on. It turns out the man is Ben Talbot, brother of Lawrence Talbot, played by a timid Benico Del Toro, who soon arrives straight from the stages of London to clear up the fowl business.

With such a deadly creature for a title, you'd expect a certain amount of violence, but Director Joe Johnson pushes to gore levels approaching that of a slasher-horror. Thankfully, much of the mutilation is off-screen, the audience only given split-second glimpses of the wolfman until the second act.

The CGI, which grants Del Toro the more animal side of his on-screen persona, is both terrifyingly realistic and surprisingly well used, particularly when highlighting Lawrence's splintering mind and his struggle with the beast within reaches it's most severe. One chilling moment sees the statue which lies above Talbot's mother's coffin slowly turn her head , complete with fatal neck injury, saying “Look in to my eyes Lawrence, you'll see I'm quite dead”.

Anthony Hopkins, as Lawrence's father Sir John, is on fine form and provides the most disturbing performance of the film, while Emily Blunt fits seamlessly into the period as leading lady Gwen Conliffe. Despite the usual necessity for romance, the film only hints at the tortured love that develops between Lawrence and Gwen, the reality of the situation keeping them apart.

Hugo Weaving is the real star of the show though as the suspicious Scotland Yard man Francis Abberline, who, like the audience, quickly sees the fantastic truth of the whole situation. The growling voice of The Matrix's Agent Smith and the calm wisdom of The Lord of The Rings' Elrond combine with a hint of cynicism and comedy from V for Vendetta's V to create a formidable pursuer for Del Toro.

There are some well thought-out set pieces and the flash-back moments are used for more than just the sake of it, but the pace quickens unevenly, making it difficult to continue to suspend disbelief, it almost seems as if a werewolf has been thrown in to an otherwise quiet period drama.

Since it is a remake, and one determined to stick to the original story, there are always drawbacks, and the most telling one of all is that you probably already know what happens before the Orange Wednesdays Advert has finished.

As a result the story leads to an inevitable conclusion, dissolving the tension and suspense built up the whole way through and falling into the trap of over-the-top action and gore in an attempt to build a climax.


James Michael Parry

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