It's hard to describe exactly what's wrong with The Wolfman. It has a strong cast, some striking visual components, and a gloomy gothic atmosphere - but there's definitely something lacking. In theory, The Wolfman has all the makings of a great gothic horror – in reality it falls completely flat.
Based on the 1941 film of the same name, The Wolfman opens with the gruesome death of Ben Talbot by a mysterious creature under the light of the full moon. Devastated by his disappearance, Talbot's fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) pleads with his long-lost brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) to return to the family estate and find out what happened. Horror ensues. Unfortunately, everything from then on is so predictable that even the dimmest audience members should be able to figure out the entire storyline within the first 20 minutes, thus killing any hope for mystery or suspense.
Co-screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self have taken the original 1941 screenplay by Curt Siodmak and turned it into a bit of a mess, lacking in tension, emotion, and scares – key elements for a suspenseful horror, no? Director Joe Johnston (Hidalgo, Jurassic Park III, Jumanji) also had a few issues, moving between the fast-paced action sequences and slow-paced dramatic scenes very unevenly, and rushing through important emotional scenes, rendering them dull and cold.
On an aesthetic level, The Wolfman delivers beautifully. The excellent cinematography, makeup, costumes, and sets, are stunning and contribute to the outstanding vision of the English countryside in the 1890s. Unfortunately they're in marked contrast to the dull plotting and uneven storyline.
In the beginning it seems like they're building towards something potentially fantastic, but the film quickly loses its footing. When everything comes to a head in the final act, the whole thing kind of falls apart. Without giving away any spoilers, it relies on the major elements of the film – family history and the romance between Gwen and Lawrence – that haven't been developed nearly enough (in fact, they haven't been developed at all - they're just suddenly there). We simply don't care enough about Lawrence or anyone else to be fully invested in their fates.
The Wolfman suffered from a long post-production, and one can't help but wonder what this movie would have been had it not been mangled in the editing process. Important relationships and elements of character development may very well have been left on the cutting room floor - and it's too bad. Had they not been, The Wolfman could have been a pretty good movie.
Ah, what could have been.
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving
Runtime: 102 mins