Being able to get an atmosphere so creepy that it seeps into an audience is something many film makers try to do but can’t get quite right. For a horror film it’s critical, and in that aspect The Wolfman oozes atmosphere. Joe Johnston’s remake of the Universal Pictures classic has the right amount of creepiness to really get under the skin. Too bad the film doesn’t have the emotional connection to go along with the physical.
A remake of the Lon Chaney Jr. classic The Wolf Man, Benicio del Toro steps into the shoes as a man with a curse. Coming back home from London, where he’s had a successful career as a stage actor, Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) comes home upon word of the death of his brother by unnatural means. Trying to track down his killer, and staying with his emotionally distant father (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence wanders into a gypsy camp nearby on the night of a full moon. Bitten by the beast, he transforms the night of the next full moon. The problem is that there is no emotional connection to the proceedings.
Johnston does provide enough for a good horror film in terms of scares and action, at least. Using this wonderful set, and some terrific cinematography, Johnston’s world (and the blistering action in it) is a marvel to watch. There are little things he does, especially with the lighting, that make it suitably creepy and interesting. He also sets up his action quite well; his big reveal of the beast takes time and energy, making it worth the wait. And if a film only had to look good, The Wolfman would be a masterpiece. The problem is that once you get past how great it looks, there’s nothing more to it.
With a tremendous cast, one would think it would be easy to craft a film that at a minimum pays homage to the classic. The problem is that there’s no emotional connection with Talbot, as del Toro provides a good performance but the film offers nothing that gives us sympathy for his character. He portrays him in the same manner that Chaney did, as a man filled with self-loathing and disgust, but the difference is that there is less for del Toro to work with then Chaney had. It’s kind of sad in a way that nearly 70 years removed from the original film that Curt Siodmak’s script would be far superior to the current one. Benicio del Toro is a good enough actor that we sympathize for him but he hasn’t been given a good enough character to really provide an emotional connection. He’s there and gets bitten, nothing more.
And that’s the problem with the rest of the cast, as it is higher in profile but isn’t given much more then cookie cutter parts. Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving (as a Scotland Yard investigator sent to debunk the myth of the “beast”) and Emily Blunt are there but aren’t given much to do. It’s a waste, but given the film’s relatively short running time it’s not surprising.
The Wolfman has been delayed significantly, going from a tentpole release to a film trying to catch lightning in a bottle, and there’s a reason for it. It’s not that good.
Director: Joe Johnston Notable Cast:Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro, Hugo Weaving Writer(s):Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self off an original screenplay by Curt Siodmak