wed 16/04/2014

The Wolfman | Film reviews, news & interviews

The Wolfman

Cheap thrills, expensively remade: give this the silver bullet

Return of the hairy cornflake: somewhere in there is Benicio Del Toro, star of The Wolfman
Return of the hairy cornflake: somewhere in there is Benicio Del Toro, star of The Wolfman

It was down to technological error that Spielberg couldn’t show you much shark. The mechanised rubber fish wasn’t working properly on set, but the studio told the director to carry on shooting anyway. Result: a genuinely terrifying film. Filmmakers have always known that the thing unseen is exponentially more unsettling that the unveiled object, there for all to gawp at. Filmmakers don’t always go by what they know. Hence Benicio Del Toro’s werewolf with its remarkable physical likeness to Dave Lee Travis.

It’s a sign of real power in Hollywood when actors are given the money to pursue a pet project. The Wolfman is Del Toro’s baby. Brought up on cheap monster flicks of a bygone age, he has put his name to an expensive monster flick. The expense is mostly in the improved CGI, heavily dressed Gothic sets, industrial quantities of dry icing and cobwebbing, but also in the payroll. Aside from Del Toro as the prodigal son returning to the crumbling family pile after years of exile to research the mysterious death of his brother, Emily Blunt brings her extraordinarily apposite cheekbones to the stock role of the love interest, while Del Toro’s father is Anthony Hopkins.

Hopkins has played some supercreeps in his time, to sometimes great effect. These days he comes equipped with a small cellular device with which to phone in his performance. Here as the grieving father and lord of the manor his accent as ever is caught somewhere between Bel Air and Port Talbot. The only writing he can have wholeheartedly enjoyed reading on this movie were the noughts on the pay cheque. “Look into my eyes,” Hopkins says at one point. “I am quite dead.” Agreed. Lecter this ain’t. I’m a big fan of his fluffy neo-Victorian buzzcut – his lunatic fringe, if you will. But when he retreats behind the furry make-up (sorry, but you’ll have guessed by his second line that he’s not entirely the doting father), you’d have to have a heart of stone not to giggle.

As so often in scary movies, it’s in the first reel that The Wolfman is most efficient. It busies itself with titillation: a flash of ankle here, a slash of claw there, the merest gush of blood, a silhouette flitting intriguingly across the screen. A beast with sharp claws, we may reasonably assume, is stalking the misty northern moors: its first victim is the son of the manor, betrothed to the beauteous Blunt. His brother returns – he’s made a name for himself as an actor in America – to commiserate and investigate. (The fact that he looks a bit, er, Hispanic to come from round here is explained by the ethnicity of his mother, herself long dead, apparently from suicide with a shaving blade.) There comes a time, as he inevitably must, when the hero will be mauled by the werewolf and duly consigned to spend one night a month ripping out throats and hearts and, in a juicy new lupine development, decapitating his victims with a well-timed flick of a wrist. Werewolves ain’t what they used to be.

He is duly apprehended by Hugo Weaving’s moustachioed detective and banged up in an asylum in Lambeth, where Antony Sher’s psychotic shrink attempts to torture the lunar delusions out of him. When under a full moon he attempts to prove his theory to a lecture hall full of grizzled professors, Sher comes to a satisfyingly sticky end (in fact more pointy than sticky).

And so, after a bit more slicing and dicing in London, we return for the climactic quietus (and the inevitable set-up for a sequel). The Wolfman grapples with an internal conflict. It harks back to a genre which gloried in the cheap thrill and the corny line, of which much the best specimen comes when Weaving turns up from the Yard to make enquiries. “Weren’t you in charge of the Ripper case a couple of years back?” asks Hopkins. But this film is drowning in money. You expect a bit more bang for your buck than sound effects souped up to the max. You certainly expect a solid-looking stone circle, rather than one that would do very nicely for Spinal Tap. The director is Joe Johnston, who made the terrific Jurassic Park 3. But it’s another massive hit of his that is here invoked. Honey, he shrunk the werewolf.

The Wolfman is on general release on Friday. Official website.

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