In “The Wolfman”. written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, director Joe Johnston tries to create a Victorian English thriller about the beast that appears when the moon is full. Though there are the to-be-expected scenes of gore (strands of intestines, a couple of beheadings, scads of blood) which are meant to strike terror into the audience and though there is one good performance (Emily Blunt as Gwen Conliffe), the widow of the Wolfman’s brother), the movie won’t make you fear the full moon the way “Sharks” made you fear going into the ocean.
The story takes place in 1891, in Blackmoor, England, gothic-bleak and ostentatious. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), a star of the American stage, has returned home from New York when he learns of the death of his brother, the nature of whose death is so grisly that locals suspect it’s something more than an animal or a lunatic. Though relations with his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Talbot), are frosty, he resolves to remain home until the matter is solved. He dispatches Gwen from the family manor for her safety. From a band of gypsies, whose appearance coincided with the murder of his brother and two other people, he learns of a curse. When he survives an attack he becomes not only accursed but also the object of a manhunt. After an unseemly number of grotesque deaths the rest of the story rids the region of the scourge, which of course requires the use of a silver bullet.
Visuals aside, the story’s preposterous. If it were simply a matter of hunting down and killing one Wolfman, that would provide enough plot-twists to satisfy one movie. But when you introduce a second one, an introduction that rouses a big fat “Huh?”, when the identity of the original one hopelessly complicates the film, when the two Wolfmen fight to the death, when you throw in a mish-mash of Oedipal elements as well as an unnecessary almost-love interest between Wolfman #2 and Gwen, then the story loses its trajectory, credibility, and interest.
The role of Laurence should have been the expression of a man haunted by the death of his mother when he was young. This death should have at least in part informed his decision to leave home, ostensibly to never return again, to become an actor. The death should have also explained the ambivalent if not negative feelings Laurence felt for his father not to mention his vulnerability to the unintentional charms of Gwen. But no. Del Toro made him more of a Frankenstein than a Wolfman. Though he’s an actor playing an actor, his emotions and, especially, his facial expressions convey zilch. Despair, anger, bitterness – they’re simply not there.
Hopkins seems to be sleepwalking through the role of a father with a sinister secret. On paper it offers a role tailor-made for his preternatural calm, diabolical tone of voice, and smooth, calculated movements. But Hopkins seems more as if he were channeling a furry Hannibal Lector than a father who decades before killed not just his wife but, years later, one of his sons as well. It’s a sad commentary on a film when its dramatic moments only occur after the two male leads have undergone hours of makeup. As a grieving widow however, Blunt’s Gwen stages a fine nuanced performance which stands out from but doesn’t rescue the cartooney characterizations of her two male leads.