An old 1970s horror comic bows into the MCU via Werewolf by Night, a Disney+ exclusive in the vein of oddball series like Wandavision and Loki. What makes these properties similar is their relatively experimental styles, outside the norm for most MCU product – in this case, spooky black-and-white cinematography and gloomy atmosphere inspired by 1930s horror films. Renowned film-score composer Michael Giacchino (notable for landing an Oscar nod for Up, and whose compositions for The Batman are stunning) switches to the director’s chair for this tongue-in-cheeky horror comedy. So the question stands: Is it any good, or are you just going to howl a-whoooooooooooooooo cares?
‘WEREWOLF BY NIGHT’: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: ULYSSES BLOODSTONE IS DEAD. Quite the unceremonious MCU debut for a character who’s been in comics since 1975, but not everyone can get a kickass origin story. Anyway, he was a notorious monster hunter, and now, his precious bloodstone, which endows upon its possessor mysterious powers, is up for grabs. And his chosen means to jump-ball the gem is via a good ol’ monster hunt, which draws a variety of high-style weirdos to his estate, and whether any of these characters are easter eggs, I haven’t a clue, but it wouldn’t be the MCU if there wasn’t a lingering suspicion that you’re missing something that the geeks are totally getting.
As it is, there’s only two characters here that truly matter – Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), Ulysses’ estranged daughter, and Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), who’s our established protagonist, even though he’s mostly a mystery to us. So what’s Jack’s deal? You can probably guess, considering the title of the thing he’s in, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the big METAMORPHOTRANSMOGRITATION, because this puppy’s only 52 minutes long, and it’s saving the good shit for last.
Anyway, the bloodstone is attached to a monster and let loose on the grounds, and the hunt begins, and how this goes is, the hunters kill each other in order to guarantee victory. There are fights and scuffles and some surprisingly violent violence for the MCU but it’s in black-and-white and the blood spattering on the camera lens isn’t red so they can get away with it. Revelations are, um, revealed, and it soon becomes apparent that Jack may not give a damn about the bloodstone, and has an ulterior motive, and instead of fighting Elsa, he makes friends with her. And so two questions linger: Who’s the monster? And Where’s the werewolf?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The good ol’ Lon Chaney The Wolf Man is a clear inspiration for Giacchino – or any golden-age creeper with cool-phony stylized sets, and that are best watched on a grainy print chattering through an old projector. Within the MCU (these things always demand inter-universe comparisons, he said with a sigh), it’s an extension of the horror vibes Sam Raimi explored in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
Performance Worth Watching: (In Cryptkeeper voice) There’s not much in the way of character for anyone to sink their teeth into here, but Bernal is howlingly good when it comes to funny, hairy-scary fodder! Hehehehehehehehehehehehee!
Memorable Dialogue: A Ulysses Bloodstone zombie-robot-thing delivers some PUN-ny dialogue as he gives the monster hunters some encouragement: “I’ll be ROTTING for you! Forgive me – graveyard humor!”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: You can’t say Werewolf by Night isn’t stylish – Giacchino adds grain and cigarette burns (see Fight Club for further explanation) to the image to make us almost but not really forget that we’re watching this at home on a laptop or phone or, if you’re super old-school, a plasma TV. The b-w lends itself to the evocative use of shadows, never more thrilling than when the lycanthrope from the title at last emerges, its visage teased via silhouette before we get a good look at it. And off it goes, leaping into action in nifty unbroken takes (a la some of the best moments in Daredevil), and keenly folding in moments of effective comedy.
So it’s fun, but with two dings against it: One, every werewolf film worth its weight in shedded fur and fang polish needs a crazy transformation sequence, and Giacchino pretty much opts for reaction shots and quick glimpses instead of something to make Rick Baker proud. (Style choice or too expensive for a “TV special”? We can’t be sure.) And two, the movie introduces characters (no spoilers, although you probably know, because it’s already out there) who surely will have Greater Significance in the MCU Moving Forward, because if MCU features didn’t do this, they’d be violating the Franchise Mission Statement and fired into space, never to be seen again.
It’s hard to get too excited about what’s essentially a teaser reel for stuff to come more than a real story
Our Call: It’s a little hard to get excited about what’s essentially a teaser reel for stuff to come more than a fully realized story with three-dimensional characters, but for an exercise in style with a few moments of deft action, Werewolf by Night is enjoyable. STREAM IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.