Werewolf by Night review: Marvel goes dark in gory Halloween horror

gael-garcia-bernal-werewlf-by-nightMarvel/Disney

Werewolf by Night is unlike anything Marvel has yet made, exploring the dark side of their cinematic universe in a 45-minute film that’s funny, scary, and filled with gore.

Michael Giacchino is one of the great movie composers, winning acclaim – and an Academy Award – for scoring the likes of Up, Rogue One, Coco, and most recently, The Batman.

But Giacchino has also been making movies since he was a kid – cheap shorts with the family camera, inspired by both the Universal monsters and Hammer horror movies. They were followed by the more ambitious 2018 short Monster Challenge, which paid homage to Japanese creature features.

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So when Marvel’s head honcho Kevin Feige asked Giacchino what his filmmaking ambitions were, Giacchino immediately had an answer, which is how this iteration of Werewolf by Night was born.

What is Werewolf by Night?

It’s a very different kind of Marvel movie, with the trailer proclaiming it a “Special Presentation.” The MCU animatic kicks proceedings off in black-and-white, in-keeping with much of the movie. While claws slash through the images onscreen. We aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Instead, we’re entering a castle in an undisclosed location, with Jack Russell, our eyes and ears for the movie. He makes his way to a grand circular room that’s filled with weapons and the busts of slayed beasts on the walls.

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As Giacchino’s suitably lush orchestral score plays (he does the music, naturally), we’re told via voiceover that that Werewolf by Night won’t be about the heroes and marvels that we’re used to watching, but will rather revolve around the darkness, where monsters dwell. Meaning She-Hulk, it ain’t.

The Bloodstone hunt

Jack has been invited to participate in a hunt to commemorate the death of Ulysses Bloodstone. And it’s all very theatrical, with Ulysses speaking from beyond the grave through his animated corpse, to tell Jack and his fellow slayers the rules of the game.

The legendary Bloodstone is affixed to a monster – to both weaken and annoy it. That monster is then set free in the grounds of the compound. Weapons have also been placed throughout the gardens. And it’s every hunter for themselves, with it very much a case of kill or be killed.

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Only the strongest and most committed will emerge victorious, and become keeper of the stone, and new leader in the crusade against monsters.

What follows is a bloody battle between the hunters – who have more than 200 kills between them – and the monster, who fans of Marvel’s horror comics will immediately recognize.

Jack and Elsa take center stage

But while the killers are colorful – with a bearded Scotsman stealing every scene he’s in – Werewolf by Night is essentially a two-hander, focussing on Jack Russell, and Elsa Bloodstone.

Gael Garcia Bernal is adorable as anti-hero Jack, who has a mysterious connection with said monster. He looks great in ghostly, skull-like make-up that pays homage to his ancestors. While there’s always been something of a puppy-dog about the Mexican actor, which works for the character, especially when his secret is revealed.

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While Outlander star Laura Donnelly is a revelation as Elsa, shamed daughter of Ullysses who has returned after 20 years to claim her birthright. Elsa is quick with a quip, but she’s also an absolute badass when the carnage kicks off, delivering death from every possible angle.

The wolf-man cometh

It takes an age for the title character to emerge, but when the werewolf does eventually appear, it’s well worth the wait.

Giacchino beautifully – and doubtless cheaply – shoots the transformation through shadow and silhouette while zooming in on potential victim, and the imagery feels like it’s ripped from one of the classic Universal movies the director so loves.

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The wolf-man looks great, retaining his actor’s features so we can see if there’s any humanity left in his eyes. While when the creature starts killing, it’s genuinely terrifying, the beast moving at lightening speed, and ripping enemies apart with effortless ease.

The Verdict – is Werewolf by Night good?

Werewolf by Night is a blast. It’s shorter than the normal Marvel movie. Less colorful. More camp. Quite melodramatic. And definitely more gory. While Peter Cameron’s script – from a story by Heather Quinn – is blackly comic, meaning graveyard humor dominates the dialogue.

It strays pretty far from the comic book source material, where Jack was an 18-year-old rich kid from Malibu. But the changes make sense, adding tragedy to the comedy, and lending the film a timeless quality in-keeping with the many great horrors it apes.

Gael Garcia Bernal lights up the screen as Jack, while Laura Donnelly’s Elsa is more than his match, making them a winning duo for whom this is hopefully a launchpad. All of which means that if this is just the beginning of Marvel’s horror output, the studio’s “Dark Universe” is off to a great start.

Werewolf by Night streams on Disney+ from October 7.