Werewolf By Night (Review) – Marvel’s Horror Special Is To Howl For

DIRECTOR: Michael Giacchino

CAST: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jaycob Maya, Eugenie Bondurant, Kirk Thatcher

RUNNING TIME: 55 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A group of monster hunters gather for a memorable evening…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

A common criticism about Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its lack of freshness, with some critics and audiences becoming more savvy and even weary of the superhero formula that has been in place since the beginning. Those people will probably dig Marvel’s new horror special – and the first of many “special presentations” in Marvel’s future – Werewolf By Night the most, as it does away with the typical formula and mixes up the tone, the style, and even the genre in an attempt to appear fresh and exciting once more.

The gambit pays off, as this is a special that really does stand out amongst the standard Marvel crop, and offers some nice treats for not just comic fans, but also those who love classic horror filmmaking as much as director Michael Giacchino (the Oscar-winning composer, making his directorial debut here) clearly does. His film is styled like a Universal monster movie from the 1930s, shown predominantly in black-and-white with a grainy 35mm film print filter, a gripping orchestral musical score (supplied, of course, by Giacchino himself), and some gnarly violence to match the likes of classics like The Wolf Man – all of which is contained in a small-scale, but still rather enjoyable, narrative with fun moments sprayed throughout.

The film introduces the concept of monsters into the MCU, and a legion of monster hunters who have dedicated their lives to capturing and killing some of the most frightening creatures in existence. When their leader Ulysses Bloodstone passes away, a group of them gather for his funeral, including the mysterious Jack (Gael García Bernal) and Ulysses’ estranged daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly). As per tradition, the gathered hunters must track down and destroy a monster in order to gain possession of the coveted Bloodstone, a powerful relic that repels creatures and grants its owner authority over the legion – but as the night plods along, Jack reveals himself to be more monstrous than anyone had ever imagined.

If you know the comics, or even saw what the title of this special is, then you’ll probably already be able to tell what kind of monster reigns at the heart of the story – and when it finally appears, it’s pretty great as it allows things to get gorier and more brutal than anything we’ve seen yet in this universe. There are kills in this that are downright savage, to a point where I was honestly surprised that Disney even allowed it to be shown so openly on its streaming service, especially when there is blood literally being sprayed all over the camera at one point. Giacchino handles the graphic violence with plenty of energy and intensity, whilst giving it all a shade of personality that amps up the investment in this story and set of characters, as well as the entertainment factor which comes from just seeing all of this bloodshed done within a retro style that is done with clear love and affection.

It is a short feature, coming in at just under an hour, but there is enough that it does during that miniscule running time to keep you hooked and fully engaged. It does a decent job with its characters, with Gael García Bernal proving to be a likeable presence opposite Laura Donnelly’s more straight-laced foil, giving you enough information about them to know where they’re coming from and what they want the most out of this situation, while also laying the foundations for further monster adventures yet to come. Naturally, though, some plot points and side characters do feel underdeveloped, simply because there isn’t enough time to get into every single detail, but again it’s written in a way where you are given as much as you need to be given without diving too deep into expository dialogue, which allows the filmmaking style to thrive and not be too bogged down by the need to over-explain things.

Frightening when it needs to be, funny when it’s necessary, and surprisingly sweet in other unexpected places (there’s a nice relationship between one character and another monster, which I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing more of further down the line), Werewolf By Night is a spooky Marvel diversion that feels passionate, ambitious, and – most of all – fresh.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Werewolf By Night is a fun and surprisingly violent Marvel horror special that revels in its retro filmmaking style, which director Michael Giacchino brings to life with passion and freshness, and manages to introduce some interesting new areas and tones which could pave the way for intense new methods of superhero storytelling to come.

Werewolf By Night is now available to stream on Disney+

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