The Wolfman is not a horror film in the mold of what we expect from the genre today. It follows more of a pattern set by the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930’s, and seeing as it is a remake of one such film, this makes sense. The Wolfman creature fits more of a gothic tone, and shouldn’t have to conform to the gruesome, ultra-violent standards horror films are held to today.
That said, The Wolfman succeeds in some part on recreating this tone. It takes place in a very gothic atmosphere, and has a creepy, dreadful mood that carries well throughout the first half of the film. It has some great scares in its first few scenes involving werewolf violence, and has some really awesome werewolf transformation scenes. All in all, it is a pretty satisfying popcorn flick. That is, until it goes downhill in its second half.
What ruins the film’s second half is a sudden shift in the tone and presentation of the werewolf action scenes. Things start going from genuinely exciting and frightening to very silly. The visual effects take a dive in quality, the shots are composited in a way that presents their content laughably, and characters begin to do things that make no sense. For example, at one point, Anthony Hopkins’ character tosses a heavy-looking chair over his shoulder, and it flies across the room. Mind you, he tosses it, lightly at that, with one hand, he doesn’t throw it. It flies across the room as though he thrust it into the air. It’s things like that, paired with the visual effects suddenly taking on a cartoonish nature in contrast with the fairly believable visuals we had been presented with before, that ruin the film’s illusion.
Why does this happen? There was no reason for things to get so ridiculous. It felt as though the filmmakers were feeling comfortable in making a contemporary rendition of the classic monster movie. Why take a campy twist in the middle of the narrative? Keep in mind, this isn’t the only problem with the film, but its other flaws don’t take the audience out of the film quite like this tonal shift. It’s almost heartbreaking to think that a film as entertaining as The Wolfman could be destroyed only by ten minutes of pure camp.
Aside from the tonal shift, the film does have some outstanding qualities. The cast delivers some solid performances, especially from Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro, who play father and son quite believably. Hugo Weaving is thoroughly entertaining in the role of a supernatural investigator, a role that doesn’t offer much to chew on, but Weaving still makes it pretty memorable. Despite these working elements, though, the film still has subsequent outstanding flaws in its character relationships. The romantic subplot between Emily Blunt’s character and Benicio del Toro’s character doesn’t totally work, and is never really explored beyond the fact that they’re supposed to end up falling in love. In spite of it’s nature as a subplot, it still plays a substantial role in the film that demands such exploration, and is never delivered.
In part, The Wolfman is a fun, classical horror film in the vein of the films from the genre’s early years. It is ultimately bested, though, by a tonal shift that makes everything seem more a fun joke than a frightening ride. It becomes impossible to take the movie seriously as a thriller after that point, and it becomes heartbreakingly broken. The Wolfman could have resurrected the classic horror film. Instead, it kills another chance to bring the genre back to its roots.