“They say it is no sin to kill an animal. But is it a sin to kill a man?” the voice-over asks us at the beginning of “The Wolfman.” I don’t know. But it definitely shouldn’t be a sin to kill a bad movie. Considering its big-name cast and the host of special effects available today, this film could be so much more than the shallow snooze-fest it proves to be.
In Joe Johnston’s remake of the 1941 monster flick by the same name, Benicio del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, an American who has returned home to investigate his brother’s mysterious disappearance. Home, in this case, is his father’s estate in Blackmoor, an English hamlet characterized by misty hills dotted with sheep and innards.
Innards? The work of a bloodthirsty werewolf with a penchant for gutting the townspeople. While searching for his brother’s killer (at night, in the woods, under the full moon, naturally), Talbot gets bitten by the wolf. This is an issue, particularly for his crazy, moon-gazing father (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s cutie-pie fiancée (Emily Blunt). Hugo Weaving also makes an appearance as an inspector set on catching the movie’s hairy protagonist.
The movie’s intrigue is its potential for really gnarly visuals. The trailer, for instance, shows a momentary close-up of a hand, fingers rapidly elongating and popping out of alignment. Cool. This image evokes the kind of horrible, unblinking fascination that a movie like “The Wolfman” should capitalize on.
And, to its credit, it does, at least a few times. During each man-to-wolf transition are a few moments of contortion that are nice and nasty. These computer-generated visuals work well. The animators also rip off/pay homage to “Lord of the Rings” with a creepy were-child that bears a striking resemblance to Gollum.
So far, sounds like a pretty solid horror flick. And it would have been. If it weren’t for the prosthetics.
Dolled up in a furry suit and face paint, del Toro’s werewolf is anything but frightening. It’s barely a step above the original’s werewolf costume and definitely not something that will strike terror in the hearts of today’s moviegoers. Maybe we’re a spoiled generation when it comes to horror flicks, but honestly: if you have the option to a) use CGI and create something legitimately scary, or b) dress your monster up like the mascot at a high school basketball game, the choice should be obvious.
It’s impossible to take this wolfman seriously, a truth only exacerbated by the film’s big wolf-on-wolf, WWE-style smackdown in which the film’s lead werewolves take a break from dismembering townies to duke it out in a flaming parlor. Chairs are thrown and guts are spilled, but the fight never hits the adrenaline-charged high of your average made-for-television cage fight.
As for the plot: it’s light. Talbot feels some angst over killing people and over his relationship with his father, but del Toro is cut short in actually developing his character’s emotional turmoil. Indeed, the film’s moments of humanity are far too hurried to really appreciate the characters’ emotional interactions. Their relationships are meant to be deeply complicated, but without time to work through their issues, they fall flat. Blunt, Hopkins and Weaving do their jobs well, but the film’s design confuses their talent.
Perhaps “The Wolfman” has one redeeming quality: its ability to inflate a moviegoer’s ego when it comes to fearlessness. While a good horror movie would leave you unnerved and feeling like a jibbering pansy, “The Wolfman” allows you to leave the theater unimpressed, a champion of the genre. You’ll sleep well that night.