‘Werewolf By Night’ Review: “A Bloody Mix of Heroics and Horror”
Werewolf by Night is a fantastic homage to the classic horror monsters of the past. From the opening credits of the Marvel Studios Special Presentation, it’s clear that the Universal horror vibes will be prevalent throughout the 52-minute runtime. The directorial debut of famous composer Michael Giacchino (although he’s made a few short films in the past) is a successful blend of comic books and horror, albeit with a few road bumps along the way.
The TV Special centers around Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) and a group of other monster hunters who wish to obtain the legendary bloodstone after the death of Ulysses Bloodstone. The bloodstone is Elsa’s by birthright, but her estrangement from her family and her monstrous mother Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) has led to her finding a different way to earn it. A monster hunt is conducted to see who is worthy of wielding the bloodstone; thus, the bloody chaos of Werewolf by Night is set in motion.
Gael García Bernal plays Jack Russell; if it wasn’t evident by the previews released, he is the titular wolf in monster-hunters clothing. The entire TV special centers around the cult-like monster hunt, and it’s an engaging premise that also serves the short runtime of the special.
Michael Giacchino loves the old-school monster movie genre, with the whole special feeling like a homage in every aspect of its production. From the black and white cinematography to practical effects, Werewolf By Night strives to be a well-crafted horror homage in the comic-book world it has its roots in, while also separating itself enough from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to feel fresh and exciting.
Gael García Bernal and Laura Donnelly are the stars of the special, and Giacchino uses their awkward meet-cute chemistry together excellently. The way the two bounce off each other, given their grim circumstances, helps give the special a morbid tone not usually expected from Disney+ content. Elsa Bloodstone isn’t the usual superhero you expect in these projects. Instead, she plays it like the final girl in a horror picture separate from the MCU.
As fun and charming as Bernal is, Jack Russell makes for an unfortunately one-note character. Giacchino makes this titular monster a little too easy to empathize with. His arc is very cliché, though it is expected with such a short runtime.
The action in Werewolf by Night is where the special really shines. Made to look like it’s shot on film, the editing and creative choices that came with crafting this special shows Marvel’s willingness to try something slightly different. Once the chaos starts, there’s no going back as the special ramps up tension and thrills with bloody and satisfying action. The camera movement follows every fist, blade, arrow, and werewolf fist (yes, that’s different from a regular fist) so that none of it is lost on the audience.
Giacchino wants you to revel in the bloody mayhem. It’s almost as if the director knows that this special breaks from the mold, and he wants the audience to enjoy it as much as he does. The special is a good time that has fun blending super-heroics with the blood and guts of the horror genre.
Man-Thing, who also plays a special part in Werewolf By Night, is a practical effect that’s a (man) thing of beauty. Every time the character is on screen, viewers will undoubtedly revel in all his chaotic glory. The character also proves that major blockbusters can’t go wrong with more practical effects and less CGI.
On top of doing an incredible job directing, Michael Giacchino provides a sensational score for the TV special. Blaring horns and calculated, intense strings elevate the material on the screen to really bring the horror-picture aesthetic full circle. Being lucky enough to experience this TV Special in theaters, hearing Giacchino’s score on a theatrical sound system further demonstrated its impressive dynamic range from soft, intense tones to suddenly loud blaring sounds that complement the action on screen.
The black & white cinematography makes all the bloody action and darker lighting all the more intense. Overall, on every technical level, Werewolf By Night feels painstakingly crafted out of love. As of late, many Marvel Studios projects have been lacking the personal touch this TV Special has, making it all the more enjoyable.
While the story and character beats are very one-note, Giacchino and co.’s dedication to making something different positions Werewolf by Night as one of the best MCU projects released on Disney+. Whether Marvel Studios continues this trend of breaking the mold and trying something different remains to be seen, though I certainly hope this project sets an example – Ernesto Valenzuela
Werewolf By Night is Streaming on Disney+ on October 7th
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