Film Reviews / Streaming / Television

Marvel Studios’ Werewolf by Night review: Dir. Michael Giacchino

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spent the last ten years or more moulding and melding a behemoth of reachable, relatable characters, even if quite a few have superpowers. Of late thought, Kevin Feige and the covert MCU conspirators have been introducing the lesser known and more obscure characters deep from the Marvel Universe catalogue – and I’m personally enjoying the unexpected.

For this Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation, they’re embracing the darker autumn nights with an entertaining diversion from their usual suspects and introducing new characters – whilst also embedding us in Spooky Season for… Werewolf by Night! While I’ll avoid specific spoilers, some things I mention you’ve seen in the trailer so, if you’ve not seen that at all, stay away from here until you’ve seen the short film, it’s fun enough and worth it in that respect!

Set on a sombre night, we join a gathering of monster hunters returning to Bloodstone Temple following the death of their leader, where they’re given the chance to win a mysterious, powerful relic – as a memorial prize from their dead mentor. To do this, they must enter a deadly competition, which involves hunting down a dangerous monster – no matter what it takes.

Directed by Michael Giacchino, with his TV movie debut (and he also composes the score), it’s great to see him given this opportunity to show his filmmaking skills on such a big scale, given that he’s had a love for it since he was a kid, and Werewolf by Night is inspired by the horror films of the 30s and 40s, and you get that classic, B-Movie homage sense throughout but with an additional hit of Marvel’s touch.

There’s no doubt this is a new corner of the MCU, and it does delve into the chiller, thriller vibe – with strong performances from the lead two Gael García Bernal, as Jack Russell, and Laura Donnelly, as Elsa Bloodstone – and a big (welcoming) character, who I think we’ll probably see again in due course, plus there’s Harriet Sansom Harris as Verusa, who brings the Hammer Horror drama.

I respected the old-style black and white (ish) approach, and a 35mm crackly edge (as well as the hint of red for the central relic), but if you’re after real gore and guts, then it’s a touch surface level and more Marvel-friendly – despite a fun brutal ‘fight sequence’ in the latter third but I think they implemented digital blood, which is always disappointing when you can easily implement practical blood effects and in a genre like this, that is important.

It’s a focused story thought, with a rounded narrative, and a step forward for Marvel away from the likes of Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy – although thanks to James Gunn for that enjoyable anarchy. Despite those mentioned digital affects, and there are clearly more, the werewolf itself has an exquisite, classic Universal monsters look, and it’s an awesome practical element, plus I really liked the smart shadow work for the ‘change,’ and then close-up camera work for genuine terror was excellent.

While Werewolf by Night’s outer characters touch on being slightly less ‘PC’ in the opening scenes, the special has such a quick turnaround, there’s less character development there and a lot more on the lead characters – and this is perhaps purposeful for future ventures. I did however enjoy the suspenseful Giacchino score, with perfectly plucked string moments, and there’s just enough fun tongue-in-cheek comic points, combined with suspense and story twists, to keep you hooked.

Overall, this is undoubtedly fun escapism and ripe Pumpkin-like picking for the Halloween season, with just enough of a hit of horror to contemplate and a deep intrigue for what’s to come next….

Werewolf by Night is streaming on Disney+ from 7th October

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