30 Days of Fright – 24: The Wolfman

I am painfully aware that there are really only two types of film out there. There’s the type that carries a serious message, or tells a story that needs to be told, or is a visual essay on some subject important to the film-makers. The other type of film is the mindless entertainment piece, simply made in order to help audiences pass a couple of hours either laughing or crying or throwing up or whatever. I enjoy entertainment films but I love films that make more of themselves; those drama’s that make you care deeply for fictional characters, or sci-fi that pushes the boundaries of what mankind is capable of, or horror that analyses human behaviour and its consequences. A tragedy that occurs sometimes in cinema is where a film comes along that isn’t sure what it was meant to be, entertaining or thought provoking. When a film ends up caught between the two extremes like that you end up with a terrible mess on your hands, like when you go for a curry after a day spent on the lash, it’s never pretty.

The Wolfman (2010) is set in the final decade of the nineteenth century and starts off with the strange death of a man in the forest near Blackmoor in England. The man in question is Ben Talbot and his fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) heads to London to find his brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) who is prancing about like a big whoopsy making a living as an actor. Gwen convinces Lawrence to return home to Blackmoor to help in the search for Ben. When Lawrance gets home he is reunited with his estranged (and fucking strange) father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). Sir John reveals that Ben’s mutilated body had been discovered the day before and asks Lawrence to stay for the funeral.

Lawrence heads into the village to take a gander at his brother’s corpse and he finds that Ben had been mauled nearly beyond recognition by something that definitely wasn’t human. He collects some of Ben’s personal effects and then does what anyone would do in that situation and nips into the pub to get shitfaced. While in the bar he overhears the locals discussing what must have happened to Ben, with some of them leaning towards the idea that it was a bear that belongs to some gypsies who are camped nearby, while at least one other old lush has already made the cognitive leap to blaming a werewolf for the death.

Lawrence finds that Ben had a gypsy medallion in his possession when he died so he pays a visit to their halting site to have a chat. There meets with an old pavee woman who tells him that Ben had suffered from a brush with evil, hence the need for the medallion. The villagers then pick that moment to call out to the knackers to get them to hand over the dancing bear they believed was behind the killing. Just as things are about to pop off, a strange creature attacks the pikey camp and indiscriminately kills settled and traveller alike. A young boy flees the carnage and Lawrence runs after him to try to keep him safe but is himself attacked and bitten.

Lawrence recovers from the bite quite well and even feels stronger after he gets better than he did before he was injured. About this time Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives to start a serious investigation to what’s been going on. The villagers fill his head with stories of werewolves and Aberline suspects Lawrence is involved. Lawrence, himself getting a little worried about the turn of events, develops an interest in silver and firearms… just as the full moon rises.

The infamous “Exploding Kebab” tends only to be ordered by drunkards, with good reason.

The Wolfman is sadly one of those films that hasn’t a fucking notion what it’s meant to be about. I would have thought that the name of the film would have given the film-makers some clue as to what to make a movie about, but this apparently managed to sneak by them. The Wolfman kinda tries to be entertaining, but misses on that front, and there’s no hint at any deeper meaning in the material so there’s nothing to make you think after the end credits have rolled, except some of the nutty decisions that were made in the making of the film.

The most unusual decision has to be casting Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence. I liked Del Toro in The Usual Suspects, and I fucking loved him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I don’t consider him to be a particularly good actor. He’s not all that strong in a role that requires restraint or the appearance of normality, which is why he’s great in character roles but was a shite choice for Wolfman. His casting has all sorts of knock-on effects too, in that his skin tone had to be explained by giving him an exotic mother. But there’s no need for this. It has nothing to do with the story that his mother was from somewhere other than England, all it does is shoehorn Del Toro into a role he was woefully unsuitable for. The character of Sir John has loads of paraphernalia from his globetrotting in the house to explain how he liked to travel, without the need to have brought a bride home with him.

The next weird choice was the music, as once again the film makers went with a score that was far better suited to a vampire film than a werewolf movie. In fact, I’d go as far as to name the film it was better suited to as it mostly seemed like it was ripped off the soundtrack to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, like one of those dodgy movie trailers that are found on You Tube where some kid has picked his favourite scenes from a film and set them to some instrumental piece that they love to death and then published the whole bastard effort for the world to see. Danny Elfman got the call for Wolfman and there seemed to have been some confusion as to what the film was about as the delivered soundtrack is just utterly wrong for the film.

The final thing that really had me wondering was why the wolfman himself was so badly done. There are a wealth of films that show how to do a half-decent werewolf (even if it has to be CGI) but for some reason the producers of Wolfman ignored all that material and chose to do a homage to The Incredible Hulk. The Wolfman is a remake and expansion on the 1941 version and it’s likely that the people behind the 2010 outing wanted to keep something from the original (seeing as how they threw out the story and everything else seemingly that made the original so popular) but why they settled on keeping the look of the wolfman is beyond me. When the guys who made the 1941 movie made it they had very little choice in how their werewolf would look, the 2010 guys had a computer and unlimited digital resources, and they still went out of their way to make the werewolf look like a bloke in a wolf suit. Why not just put a bloke in a wolf suit?

Two Thumbs Down for The Wolfman

Fear & Loathing in Link Vegas:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wolfman_%282010_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780653/

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