When there is so much to marvel at, the sparkle can wear off. This review certainly wouldn’t be the first to talk about Marvel fatigue due to the increased output of the studio. Yet even with your plastic pumpkin bucket overflowing with sugary treats, Marvel has snuck in some ancient candy corn in the form of Werewolf By Night.
Billed as a ‘Marvel Special Presentation’ and coming in just shy of an hour long, Werewolf By Night represents a desire by Marvel to put out fresh material under less pressure to weave it into its cinematic universe (although Werewolf By Night apparently does so).
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Coco, Old) and Laura Donnelly (Outlander, HBO’s The Nevers), this stylish throwback to the horror films of yore is a perfect unexpected treat in the box.
What Is Werewolf By Night About?
Werewolf By Night is deliberately short on details beyond the minimum we need to know: after the death of Ulysses, the powerful anti-monster ‘Bloodstone’ is to be passed down to a monster hunter who can prove themselves worthy.
Most of the gathered collective simply fill the screen, but chief among them are estranged daughter Elsa (Donnelly), and Jack Russell (Bernal), under the disapproving eye of Ulysses’ widow, Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris).
As the classic 1930s and 40s style opening credits dramatically swoop through, and the colour bleeds away to black and white, it is immediately clear that Werewolf By Night is taking its chance to revel in the classic horror movie styles of old.
Director Michael Giacchino delights in dramatic genre lighting, wide angle lenses, and framing his shots as if each frame had to tell the story by itself. The best moments deliver heightened bump-in-the-night fun that would work equally strongly whether this was a Marvel property or not.
Werewolf By Night Official Trailer
Considering the short run time, Bernal does an outstanding job of bringing his character to life. Of all the monster hunters Jack is the least assuming.
The competitors are allowed to kill each other in pursuit of their prey. Once the hunters are let loose within the maze-like grounds of the Bloodstone estate, Bernal’s scenes with Donnelly bring out a quiet warmth and compassion, yet with a tinge of destructive confidence.
Donnelly drives forward the action with grit and growl. Channelling Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones, she squares up physically to her opponents but snarls with bitterness.
Her salt and sweet combination with Bernal are the heart of the special, as delightfully stabbed in the ventricles by a cackling Verussa (Harris) who revels in her new position of power with gleeful ‘nasty stepmother’ aplomb.
Is Werewolf By Night Worth Watching?
For the most part Werewolf By Night favours practical visual effects which complement the classic horror set up.
It’s no secret that a werewolf is going to show up and when it does Giacchino directs the scene gorgeously; his camera remains focussed on a terrified character whilst warping shadows and crackling lighting bring to life a stunning transformation that lets your mind fill in the details.
The werewolf itself is all costume and brought to ferocious life by a combination of superb physical acting and smart editing.
Werewolf By Night is weaker in the elements that are symptomatic of its short running length: beyond Jack, Elsa, and Verussa no one else gets any screen presence beyond an advert for the costume and make-up departments.
The set design for the hunt is rather ‘same corridor multiple angles’ as the gothic main Bloodstone Hall saps up the largest chunk of the on-camera budget. The resultant lacklustre ‘hunt’ – such as it is – therefore only serves as a character foundation, albeit from this foundation, a hugely entertaining climax is delivered.
Werewolf By Night slots in perfectly to your Halloween viewing. If Marvel decides to use the ‘Special Presentation’ outlet as a testing ground for new ideas, new creatives, or even just to produce a stand alone story with no other home, then such releases promise to be a collection of fun single mouthfuls to savour, rather than main meals you feel obligated to consume.
Words by Mike Record