“Wolfman. Neither a wolf nor a man: discuss.” I’m new at the whole movie reviewing gig, but the aforementioned seems to be the extent of the thought that went into making this less-than-horrifying horror film. Despite the considerable skills of director Joe Johnston (Hidalgo, Jurassic Park III and October Sky), this film didn’t have quite enough bite in it to bring something new to the genre. To level with you, I’m not a fan of scary movies in general. I don’t have tons of horror flick knowledge to draw on when I label Wolfman as unimpressive. However, the fact remains that this film relies heavily on needless gore (that is to say, excessive gore that contributes little to the message of the film).
The ingredients for a classic monster movie are all there. The year is 1891, and Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns home to the “cursed” Talbot Hall after receiving an urgent message from his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), regarding the man’s mysterious death. Lawrence swears to find the strangely vicious beast that has left his brother’s mauled body in a ditch. He travels to a nearby gypsy camp to see what he can learn from their mystic knowledge, but while he is there, the camp falls under the attack of what appears to be the same vicious beast. Lawrence escapes with his life, but receives a near fatal bite and must remain in the care of his long-estranged father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hawkins) and Gwen. While in Talbot Hall, Lawrence slowly uncovers clues to the enigmatic family curse and vows to bring an end to it.
Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt are without a doubt this film’s strongest attributes. As always, Hopkins gives a haunting and flawless performance, although his screen time is fairly limited. Blunt brings poignant depth to the “damsel in distress” role – her identity as a proper English widow being called into question by her growing romance with her deceased husband’s brother.
Unfortunately, this is not a standout role for Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro. The conflicts that his character faces are interesting (he shows particular acting chops during a gruesome montage of a 19th century insane asylum), but close-ups of his contemplation of latent rage/desire/childhood trauma aren’t quite enough to carry this film.
All in all, this is a slightly below average depiction of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The film only hesitantly begs the question: does every man have a monster inside him waiting to be unleashed? If it had reached a bit further beyond gypsy mysticism and myths of lycanthropy, perhaps it would have attained a greater intellectual, emotional or artistic depth. As is, I’d say, see it for the beautifully complex portrayal of a non-The Devil Wears Prada character by Blunt… or wait until next week. The Wolfman is currently playing at Hamilton Theater.