Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wolfman

Man’s fascination with the internal beast is the keystone of the horror genre. In 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. first introduced audiences to The Wolf Man; his now iconic portrayal spawned all manner of cinematic homages, let alone nightmares. Adapted by Se7en and Sleepy Hollow scribe, Andrew Kevin Walker, it’s evident that Curt Zidomak’s original screenplay is in reverent, respectful hands.

Indeed Walker and director Joe Johnson (Jurassic Park III, October Sky) appear content to avoid any new territory in their restaging of the classic, the result being a rather quaint, old-fashioned addition to the genre. Benicio del Toro is Lawrence Talbot, the famed stage actor and exiled son of Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), entreated to return to the manor by Gwen (Emily Blunt) upon the disappearance of her fiancé Ben (Simon Merrells). When Ben’s gored body is recovered, the twitchy townsfolk seek revenge upon the local band of gypsies, but not before the beast attacks again, butchering many and taking a hunk out of Lawrence’s neck.

Most will be au fait with how the story continues. Silver bullets, silvery moonlight and blood – gallons of blood – ensue as this twist on the return of the prodigal son seeks a more gruesome conclusion. Unfortunately, however, Johnson’s film is scare-by-numbers. Though well designed and certainly not short on carnage and entrails, The Wolfman offers no surprises, asking the audience to be satisfied with the standard shocks and gore.

Fortunately the film looks wonderful, as Rick Heinrichs’ production design and Shelly Johnson’s cinematography create a rich world shot in steely blue/grey filters and smoky forest woods. Similarly, Danny Elfman’s score sets just the right ominously atmospheric, yet decidedly theatrical tone.

So too do the cast bring theatricality to their roles. Emily Blunt is watery-eyed, mourning, quaking and querulous in turn. Though more time is given to her alabaster skin than character development, she does well with little. Hugo Weaving and Hopkins fare much better, given great, meaty lines to chew on, these two are well within their comfort zones (austere investigator and cantankerous hermit respectively), but that doesn’t stop them having a lot of fun. Del Toro is more sullen, attempting to anchor the film in high stakes and real strife. Of course he doesn’t succeed, with the rest of the film working against him, but his sunken, darkly circled eyes and penchant for muttering his lines do at least add to the disquieting atmosphere.

Good for a few jumps in a dark theatre and with enough gore to sully the taste of popcorn, The Wolfman is an entertaining, self-aware (if too safe) tribute to a classic.

Published by Street Press Australia

Australian release date: 18 February 2010

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