Monday, May 24, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

The WolfmanThe Wolfman (2010) draws heavily on the grand heritage of the Universal Studio horror movies of the 1920s-40s, and even shares the same ominous studio logo that preceded the films of the era. It drips with kitschy atmosphere and high production values, but unfortunately has few real scares - you shouldn't kid yourself into thinking you're watching a real horror movie.

Lawrence Talbot (Benico del Toro), a stage actor currently performing in Victorian-era London, is approached by his brother's fiancĂ© and asked to return to his father's country estate to investigate his brother's disappearance. Soon after returning, he has a rather unfortunate encounter with a werewolf, and is accused of a spate of recent murders. His father, Sir John Talbot (Antony Hopkins) has to cope with the resulting ire of the local villagers and has his own personal demons to deal with. A major plot twists drips with clichĂ©, and most partially-awake film-goers will pick up on it early on.

Antony Hopkins is a far superior actor than his co-stars; he spits out his dialogue with conviction and articulate grace. The relationship between John Talbot and his son is strained, and Hopkins plays the distant father with believable ease.  The standout scene in the movie takes plan in an asylum, with Hopkins declaring his love for his antagonized son, and at the same time nonchalantly throwing him a straight-razor in case he wants to take the easy way out.

A large part of the movie was filmed on location in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.  The grace and computer-enhanced faded elegance of the location are a beautiful counterpoint to the lushness of the countryside.

The first man-to-wolf transformation scene is superbly directed, with bones cracking and elongating, hair sprouting, and vertebrae distorting under the stress of the change. The special effects are not overblown, but combine with Benico's tortured screams to deliver a viscously creepy moment. It nearly reaches the terrifying heights of the corresponding transformation in another werewolf classic, An American Werewolf in London.

Some of the special effects are, however, inadequate, and pull you out of the film. The computer-generated Wolfman running and leaping through forests and across the rooftops of London moves too fast and is too agile to be believable.

The director Joe Johnston paints the movie with high-budget Gothic gloom. However, I'd be hard pressed to call The Wolfman (2010) a true horror film - it's horror-lite for the movie-going masses. It has none of the escalating build-up and cathartic release of tension of the true horror classics, nor does it offend anyone with any truly edgy material.  There are no risks taken with the plot or the pacing, which given the high budget Hollywood-feel is no real surprise. Watch it for the production values, not the scares.

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