By Anne Brodie
Wolfman and Hamlet – separated at birth? That’s the implication of this gloriously art directed update on the hirsute horror. Our hero is lonely, tortured, misunderstood, and heartbroken; they are tragic figures that endure in pop culture because they represent our dark side while stirring our tenderest emotions. There is a common mother issue and their fathers are naughty boys. Wolfman and Hamlet have women who love them, but whose unacceptable behaviour and knack for sealing their own difficult fate scotches any chance at happiness.
The latest version of Wolfman is the British born Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), called back to his family’s gothic pile when his brother’s butchered body is discovered on the moors. Talbot who grew up in America is a famous American stage actor playing; you guessed it, Hamlet, on a tour of England.
It’s 1891 and the full moon is hanging over the moors at Talbot Hall. Lawrence is reunited with his edgy father (Anthony Hopkins) for the first time in years; it’s an uncomfortable meet, bringing back disturbing memories of his mother’s suicide on another moonlit night long ago.
His late brother’s fiancée (Emily Blunt) asked him to come home to investigate the murder of her intended as the local constabulary seems unable to capture the killer. Her fiancé’s body was torn limb from limb by a massive clawed predator that dispatched others earlier.
The villagers are in an uproar and roam about with lit torches seeking out the monster. It somehow infiltrates the hunting party, attacks with incredible ferocity and leaves them dead.
The local gypsies are frightened; they know what a werewolf is, that it comes out at the full moon, driven to feast on mortals and woodland creatures. Investigators are the gypsy encampment witness the brutal, lightening fast kills as a creature moves inside.
What passes for life at Talbot Hall is sinister and creepy. Stuffed deer’s heads line the hallways while the dank, suffocating darkness seems to hold terrible secrets. Talbot the elder is strangely uninvolved with the news of a monster on the loose, and spends much of his time in a dungeon locked in by his servant. Lawrence’ mind is in overdrive trying to understand what’s going on; you can feel his anxiety.
But the story is thin. You can’t do much with Wolfman; he’s the same as and perhaps less interesting than Dracula or Frankenstein. That’s a problem the filmmakers can’t surmount but they do a remarkable job given the limitations.
Anthony Hopkins provides us with a no-holds barred re-imagining of Hannibal Lecter; he’s gleefully evil with full throttle energy that burns up the screen. His moments are pure theatre. Emily Blunt on the other hand, is cinematic lavender perfume, wafting about in a feminine Victorian world; we get to see her in action, but it’s unimpressive. Hugo Weaving turns up as a snooty investigator from Scotland Yard, called to the Moors to find the beast.
Geraldine Chaplin seems born to the role of gypsy soothsayer Maleva; she has a singular exoticism and weathered beauty and a sense of decorum that adds gravity to the far fetched story.
The look of The Wolfman is unparalleled; it takes place in what looks like a series of very beautiful, moody daguerreotypes. The filmmakers have created a stunning, and slightly repugnant world that is choked with the dust of generations and the glow of a threatening moon.
The Wolfman marks the return to the atmospheric horror films of the past, set in the far past, just far enough away to be comfortable. I hope there’s more.
Directed by Joe Johnston
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPAA: Rated R for bloody horror violence and gore
Country: UK / USA