“It is said to be a sin to kill a man, but not a beast. Yet where does one end and the other begin?”
This is the final line of The Wolfman. I thought it was a good question. Too bad the film never bothers even trying to answer it. It instead focuses on some (admittedly nice) make up effects and gore. Yet the film is missing any sense of wonder a man might feel about the fact that his make up has completely changed.
The film goes pretty much how you would expect. An actor named Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) returning home after his brother was gruesomely murdered. While his father (Anthony Hopkins) warns against this, Talbot goes out to try and solve the murder. During his investigation (which takes him to a gypsy played by-no kidding-Geraldine Chaplin) he is bitten by a werewolf and finds himself turning into one whenever the moon is full. Meanwhile, Frances Abberline (Hugo Weaving) supposedly based upon the investigator that was involved in the Jack the Ripper investigation (although my books say this man was named Frederick Abberline) comes to town to try and solve the murders that Lawrence is responsible for.
Now, imagine if you found yourself turning into a monster. Imagine that you find yourself committing murder but you cannot control yourself. How would you react? Would you react? Talbot never does. He never even pauses to wonder about the transformations occurring inside of him. The most he does is bleat out “you morons” when someone exposes him to direct moonlight. Wouldn’t he be truly afraid? Well, he never bothers to show it.
I do not kjnow what it is. I know del Toro is a good actor-I have seen him give great performances. Yet, for whatever reason, he decided to phone it in. The result is so bad that you have a feeling he merely took the receiver off the hook and said the hell with it.
The rest of the cast actually follows his lead. Anthony Hopkins gives such a bad turn that you can guess the twist involving his character with, maybe, his second line. Emily Blunt, as well, never reacts to this miraculous transformation. Everyone underplays when the situation. No one reacts to it. Nothing in the film remotely resembles how people should react.
And yet everything else about the film is quite wonderful. The make up and special effects are actually quite effective, and feature perhaps the best werewolf transformation scenes since An American Werewolf in London. Here is where I see what I should have been seeing-the transformation looks absolutely painful and actually means something. The gothic atmosphere of the film is also well done. The settings reminded me of Sleepy Hollow (and considering this film and Burton’s Gothic Hammer film feature the same writer, production designer, and composer, I cannot view this as a coincidence) and the dream sequences in which we are given fragmented versions of Talbot’s past also, even though they are not original, do work and never become tedious. It is certainly one of the better B-movies and some thought clearly was put into it.
But why stop there? The ultimate power of B-movies that The Wolfman never offers is any sort gateway. What I mean is that, no matter how poorly a B-movie is made, most of the actors were completely into the story. There was a suspension of disbelief-the actors at least gave the appearance they believed one of their friends had turned into a monster. The Wolfman does not have that. I am not sure if I can blame the special effects this time, because they were quite effective. This is one of the few times I am at a loss. I am simply not sure what is going on.
This film, due to its amazing production design, is not entirely a bad one. But production design, I must emphasize, is not everything. The actors bring this film down with their bad performances. This is the worst kind of film-one that could have been great if the people involved had only cared.