“The Wolfman” is an enjoyable romp devoted to the spirit of old school monster movies. Having endured a very public and problematic production the film hits theatres on a tide of mild pessimism, after all this is a movie we were supposed to be getting in 2008 not 2010. That said the picture works out to be a fun flick, hardly a buffet of subtle acting or narrative complexity but with tonnes of gore and some solid action and suspense. Director Joe Johnston has guided the project into safe and pleasing waters; it won’t turn up on anybodies end of year top 10 but as an unseasonably early blockbuster it’s a pleasant treat.

After the death of his brother in mysterious circumstances Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns home for the first time in years. His estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) welcomes him as does his brother’s grieving fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) but the spooked locals offer slightly less hospitality. In a bid to find out who or what is responsible for his brothers murder Lawrence runs afoul of a mysterious wolf-like beast; wounded but spared due to fortunate circumstances. However it quickly transpires that the bites inflicted have caused Lawrence to be imbued with the same curse as his assailant; turning him into a predatory and insatiable hound of hell during a full moon. As if battling with his newfound demons wasn’t enough a Detective (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix) arrives on the scene and he has Lawrence pegged as a prime suspect for the ungodly amount of blood spilt in the preceding months.

Part of what makes “The Wolfman” so digestible is its hardcore R-rating. The film is doused in gore and unsettling menace; maybe not as visually aggressive as your average “Saw” sequel but still happy to slap on the coat of blood and guts in an admirably thick fashion. Horror aficionados are sure to respect this artistic touch and in a sense it allows “The Wolfman” to be taken more seriously as a proper horror gambit. The picture musters several enjoyably tense moments but has a tendency to resort to jump scares a little too frequently. A few of these boo moments did admittedly catch me out but especially in the first half Johnston places an excessive amount of emphasis on this method of fear mongering. Teenagers may love these but more hardened and well adjusted horror nuts will undoubtedly tire of them quickly. The aesthetic lends itself wonderfully to the haunting story; Johnston deploying the foggy Moors and washed out scenery to create a truly memorable atmosphere. This well crafted setting gives the effective frights an extra level of credibility, certainly the quieter moments set on the desolate Moors are amongst the most sublime in the film’s arsenal.

The performances range from adequate to very good. Del Toro is usually a terrific screen presence but in “The Wolfman” I found him to be one of the less inspiring actors; he fills his characters shoes competently but maybe with less flair than audiences might be hoping. As a love interest Emily Blunt deserves better; she looks beautiful but an actress of her calibre should surely be in pursuit of meatier and more meaningful roles. There is an undercurrent of emotional resonance in Blunt’s character but not enough to make her properly engaging. On the other hand Hopkins is terrifically creepy and overblown as Lawrence’s father whilst the snooping Hugo Weaving nails the rip roaring and adventurous tone the film demands.

The action is fabulously entertaining and technically robust and whilst the story could hardly be described as ambitious; it is all the same simplistically satisfying. The plot takes a rewarding detour into asylum territory about halfway in which culminates in a fabulous London set scene of terror; a sequence also inclusive of some great prosthetics and CGI. The transformations look decent but it’s fair to say the physical make-up effects are better than digitals on these occasions. Johnston also does a good job of keeping things going at a rollicking pace and does manage to fire an ample character arc for Del Toro to work with. The use of flashbacks is never something to outright congratulate but Johnston actually makes the hackneyed filmmaking method seem acceptable and certainly uses them to benefit the production overall.

“The Wolfman” is ultimately a commendable burst of schlocky monster movie goodness. It’s hardly a venture to lavish vast amounts of praise on but certainly a film deserving of a decent Box-Office run. The filmmakers haven’t taken the project too seriously but they demonstrate the right amount of love and understanding to have it operate as a well made love letter to the creature features of old. The story leaves the possibility of a sequel open and whilst I wouldn’t be super enthused about the idea; it’s only fair to recognise that much inferior Hollywood productions have been granted further instalments. On its own terms and within its own limited ambitions “The Wolfman” really is a decent motion picture.

7/10

Daniel Kelly