The Hurricane (1999) ***
Twilight (2008) *
Monday, 15 February 2010
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Every now and then it so happens that the entire perception of a film is hinged on an awareness of the talent involved. Such is the case with The Wolfman, a somewhat unbalanced marriage of B-movie schlock and gothic drama which only becomes comprehensible once one appreciates the auteured qualities of its director. With a resume that includes Jumanji (1995), Honey I shrunk the Kids (1989) and Jurassic Park III (2001), Joe Johnston has exercised an affability for fantasy features with the odd scare thrown in for good measure, a theme which has evolved dramatically in The Wolfman, although perhaps not as successfully as one would hope.
After the opening’s obligatory attack on an unsuspecting victim, a lightning flash reveals the title etched into a headstone, and with it a bold announcement of what is to come. Surprising then that what unfolds is in fact a far more mature frightener than the hammer horror-like mood it initially invokes. Although clearly indebted to the original and by no means ashamed of its overtly theatrical origins, this latest incarnation is by no means a lackadaisical affair. While the premise remains the same, the breakthroughs in cinema censorship allow the Wolfman of the 21st century to release the entirety of his inner beast in all its blood-letting glory. Each attack is a veritable master-class in maiming as hapless hunters are torn asunder by an almost invincible foe, every conceivable body part spraying in multiple directions as blood splatters the screen. For some it may be too much, but generally any ill feeling is subdued by the undeniable sensation that behind all the carnage there lies merely a very black sense of humour.
It’s a fun experience and for that reason escapes largely unscathed from a potentially harmful lack of direction. Although visually this is easily Johnston’s finest work – the beautifully discoloured vistas of English mores would not go amiss in a Jane Austen adaptation – there is upon exiting the cinema a void, as if some key ingredient had been left out. Despite its reasonable running time, The Wolfman seems to be over far too quickly. Once one looks past the all too frequent scares (sometimes less really is more), very little else occurs. Admittedly its lack of literary source material hinders it from becoming a classic story in the vein of Frankenstein or Dracula, from which it borrows heavily, but there is also a lack of development in regards to character. The often great Del Toro is a missed opportunity here, his character devoid of any real motivation which renders his involvement in the plot largely ineffectual, his very being simply a tool to further the plot. It’s unfortunate that such a great cast should be squandered, particularly Hugo Weaving whose no-nonsense detective is a rather pointless inclusion. Although attempts to work in a complex history surrounding the beast are amicable, it fails to pursue this theme throughout its course and becomes an almost pale imitation of Sleepy Hollow (1999). The reveal of Anthony Hopkins nefarious activities is awkwardly handled and the lack of tension preceding it means this exposure falls short of the shock it so thoroughly needed.
However, such weaknesses are pacified by the sheer amount of enjoyment on offer. The minimal CG is often poor, but the decision to use prosthetics in this age of digital efficiency is not only admirable, it’s downright endearing. The almost laughable make-up is not only a daring homage to its forebears but a reassertion on the value of performance over spectacle. It may not be smartest movie, but it packs one hell of a bite.