This counts as a film because my friends and I loved this so much that we immediately watched it a second time just to try to catch the things we missed (both Marvel-related and in general). So technically it was 106 minutes (53 x 2).
I’ve been waiting to see Werewolf by Night since its trailer, which already promised a departure in style from previous MCU properties. As much as I will always love The Avengers, it feels weirdly dated just 10 years later. We had a taste of horror thanks to Sam Raimi‘s Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but since the preview for this, with its retro spooky feel, eerie throwback music and rich black-and-white photography, Werewolf by Night seemed like it was going to offer up proper horror, albeit Marvel-y and perhaps having its genre trappings nerfed by some of the overarching MCU approach.
I stand corrected!
[Caution: Spoilers abound]
Gael García Bernal stars as Jack Russell/Werewolf by Night, who is summoned along with a handful of other elite hunters to Bloodstone Manor after the death of Ulysses Bloodstone. Reluctantly, Bloodstone’s estranged daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly) is also present, to the others’ chagrins. To determine their new leader (who will have access to the powerful bloodstone itself), the group must embark on a dangerous monster hunt on the grounds (well, in a damned dizzying maze) that starts off with a guy playing a tuba on fire. Literally on fire. Naturally, some of the hunters aren’t too shy about trying to despatch each other as well as the monster, so that they can lay claim to the prize. But Jack seems uninterested in fighting and appears to be harbouring a secret of his own (he’s a fucking werewolf).
It’s a brisk tale that never lets up and adds in a couple of decent jump scares, but a surprising amount of violence – and a lot of how gruesome it is comes down to the crisp sound design. Sword-slicing, monstrous groans and explosions all vie for attention with crashing crescendoes and strong horn sections from the film’s score. I don’t know how much of this is down to director Michael Giacchino‘s awesome work as a composer, but it truly makes the movie feel like something I’d loved to have seen, at feature-length, in a cinema. Strong too is the set design – with its dizzying stone maze (featuring a set of stairs going nowhere), exotic ferns, moody crypts and oppressive halls, you feel like you’re walking around the set of White Zombie, The Skull or The Wolf Man.
But I think the star of the technical show is the lighting – playing with dark and light against the black and white photography, incorporating a plethora of candles, wall sconces, electric batons and backlit tombs, all creating shadows that become their own character.
Bernal is impossibly charismatic (note when he turns in a circle to sit down – just like a dog), and Donnelly brings humanity to her badass role. Harriet Sansom Harris (who I only know as Bebe from Frasier), utterly, wonderfully chews the scenery as the villainous Verussa Bloodstone, Elsa’s stepmother. I’d love to see more of Jack and Elsa, but particularly more of Jack and “Ted”. It felt like “Ted” was taken straight from the comics and I can’t believe they managed to pull this off – and humanise him, to boot.
Despite hints that this was taking place in modern-day (the clothing, the tech, the mention of sushi), the vintage feel totally worked. With its retro touches like the cigarette burns, the angles, the zooms – and especially Jack’s transformation amid shadows flickering across Elsa’s face, it was positively, indulgently nostalgic. I genuinely felt like I was watching an old Hammer Horror film. I just wished it had been longer. I want more!