Haunted Estates, Family Curses, Victorian Gothic Landscapes and a Insatiable Monster. The perfect formula for a Horror movie and The Wolf Man is one such movie.
The film begins with Ben Talbot getting attacked by the Werewolf on a full moon. Shortly after, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) writes to Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro), the brother of her missing fiancee to give him the news of his brother's disappearance and to perhaps help in the search. Upon arrival to Talbot Hall in the town of Blackmoor, Lawrence's father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) is surprised to see his oldest son return, remarking quite coldly that he always wondered what he looked like.
Upon investigating the death of his brother and seeing the horrific state of his corpse, Lawrence is given his brother's effects at the morgue, which include a gyspy medallion that leads him to their camp. He goes there to speak to Maleva, a gypsy elder, though his father had warned him previously to stay inside this night as the moon was full, and it would perhaps influence the escaped lunatic held responsible for the ghastly murders. Also that night at the tavern Lawrence overhears suspicious townfolk talk of monsters and curses, which he initially dismisses.
Soon enough at the camp the werewolf strikes, killing gypsy and villager alike and while hunting the beast with a rifle in the process of saving a gypsy boy, Lawrence is attacked and bitten but spared his life as gypsies scare it off with gunfire. Lawrence is taken back the gypsy camp where he wounds are tended and they argue over murdering him to spare him the Werewolf's curse. Maleva says to kill a man is a sin and the next morning he is returned to Talbot Hall to a shocked, but relieved Sir John.
Gwen watches over Lawrence for a week and he makes a miraculous recovery. The bite on his shoulder has almost disappeared as has his arm healed. A doctor inspects him, and is surprised at his recovery, and soon after sees the arrival of Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving), who was in charge of the Ripper Case. He is aware of Lawrence's past, his time in a lunatic asylum soon after witnessing the suicide of his mother as a boy. He found his father cradling his mother in the courtyard, her throat slit with a razor, an apparent suicide.
Furthermore, Lawrence and Gwen begin to grow close and develop feelings, much to the unamused Sir John watching from the distance.
Aberline suspects that Lawrence is still deranged from seeing the murder of his mother, and adds that due to his skill of impersonating Shakespearean characters on stage, that other more malevolent personalities lurk beneath the surface, though all wear the same face. Lawrence counters that Aberline was in charge of the Ripper case, and since the Ripper was never found either Aberline is incompetent or was the Ripper himself.
The full moon has come to Blackmoor and Talbot Hall, and Lawrence wanders the desolate halls, remembering his time as a boy, and the suicide of his mother. He sees his father walking to the family crypt where Sir John's wife is interred and follows him down to the lower levels. There Lawrence discovers a hidden room with a cell door attached, and inside the room a chair fit for a lunatic with straps and head brace. Sir John explains that he has been dead inside since the death of his wife, and locks himself in the room saying to his son that 'the beast will have his day'. As Sir John walks into the shadows his eyes shimmer with an unnatural light.
As Lawrence starts to ascend from the crypt, the curse takes violent hold of his body for the first time. He changes and prowls the hills of Blackmoor, coming across a trap laid by the villagers with a deer tied to a pole. The werewolf falls into the pit, but manages to pull several of his captors in, dismember them and then leap out of the hole killing the rest of the hunting party.
Lawrence awakens in the base of a tree not far from Talbot Hall, to be greeted by his father stating he has done terrible things. His clothes are torn and bloody, and as he runs back to his home confused and shocked he is arrested by Aberline and his men. Sir John mentions from a distance to stay strong.
Lawrence is tortured and injected with various drugs in the same asylum he spent time as a child, the Doctor in charge of his case amused to study a case of mental lycanthropy, not knowing that the curse is a reality. After several days Lawrence awakens chained in his cell to find his father sitting there, who recounts a tale of one of his hunting expeditons 25 years he sought a cave were a strange creature was sought to reside. He found the cave, and the creature which was a wolf boy who bit him on the forearm.
At first Sir John thought he was the target of some practical joke by his friends, until his first full moon came and he killed his wife which was the actual scene Lawrence saw as a child, though Sir John had made the institution make him believe his mother had killed herself. His memory true now he sees his father now in his werewolf form sitting hungry over the body of his mother, her throat torn, not sliced by a razor.
Sir John also confesses his secret love for Gwen, and that he grew jealous of his son's relationship with her, and also his possession of his own son whom he knew would leave when the two married. On the previous full moon as his servant Singh chained him to the chair in the crypt, a drunk and enraged Sir John knocked out his servant and in wolf form murders his own son, and discovers his body in a ditch the next morning.
Sir John tells his son to embrace his curse, and that it is really a gift for the strength and power of it make you greater and freer than any man. After years of locking himself in the crypt, he had decided to let the beast roam free.
Lawrence vows to kill his father for the murder of his mother and brother, and as Sir John leaves the asylum, Lawrence is tied to a chair similar to what his father owns, and is taken to a court of scholars lead by the head Doctor who insists as the full moon rises that night, and Lawrence sees he does not transform, that this will be the first step to his mental recovery. Aberline is present and is horrified along with the scholars as the full moon brings about a physical transformation in Talbot who begins killing the panicked crowd before leaping through a window he previously tossed the head Doctor through and begins a rampage on the London streets.
The next morning Lawrence awakens next to the Thames near the London Bridge and makes his way to Gwen's antique shop. There he confesses his curse, his father's crimes and his intention to murder his father for revenge. Gwen confesses her affections and desire to help no matter the cost, and Lawrence manages to escape as Aberline comes to her shop knowing that Lawrence would come there.
While Lawrence makes his way slowly back to Talbot Hall, Gwen researches lycanthropy in the British Library, and seeks out Maleva for a way to remove the curse, only to learn there is no cure and only a loved one can set the wolf free.
Lawrence arrives to find a murdered Singh and the body of one of Aberline's men, and attempts to kill his father in human form with Singh's silver shotgun shells. As Sir John beats his son with his silver wolf cane, he states that he removed the powder from the shells years ago, and where once he thought Lawrence the cowardly son, he has now come to admire his strength. He continues that Lawrence is his heir to both his fortune and the curse, and that makes him proud and that they should rule together as a monstrous family, to embrace the beast inside them.
Lawrence attacks but is easily overpowered by a man who has been under the power of the curse for much longer, and mid-fight they both change under the light of the Full Moon. Aberline sees Gwen arrive at Blackmoor and chases after her, and Talbot Hall begins to erupt in flames as lanterns were knocked over during the battle. Lawrence is almost dismembered by his father before he kicks him into the fireplace setting him alight, and decapitates him with a single stroke of his claw.
Gwen arrives, and Lawrence sniffs new prey. Aberline attempts to rescue Gwen but is bitten in the process, and Gwen manages to flee Talbot Hall with Aberline's gun loaded with silver bullets. She runs to the waterfall that was a refuge for Ben and Lawrence as boys, and is cornered by Lawrence but manages to calm the beast when she reminds Lawrence of her love for him. The Wolf grows calm and seems to be ready to withdraw, when Lawrence is once more provoked by the appearance of Aberline and his men. The werewolf turns to kill Gwen but she takes up the gun once more and shots him in the heart. Returning to his human form, Gwen begs for forgiveness, while Lawrence states he is glad to finally find peace.
Aberline's men arrive to find a dead Lawrence cradled in Gwen's arm, and she notices the bloody bite on Aberline's shoulder as he looks towards the full moon with dread. The Curse of the Werewolf lives on.
I loved this film, and was filled with glee that good old Gothic Horror had returned to the cinema. There was no sappy teenage love, or supernatural creatures with superhuman powers trying to save the day. This was a Gothic Tragedy through and through and I hope it sees a return of REAL horror to the cinema.
All the actors were terrific and sublime in their parts. Del Toro made a worthy successor to Lon Chaney Jr and even steps it up a notch or two with his character's tortured soul. His role suited up as the Wolf Man was phenomenal and quite horrific, the lack of humanity in the curse was evident here, and the pain and despair on his face after he discovered his monstrous actions was quite heartbreaking.
I have never seen Emily Blunt in any other film that I am aware of, but she is a pretty lass and did quite well here as the innocent Gwen who seemed to be cursed in her own way with her ties to the Talbot Family. Unlucky for her was that every Talbot male sought to possess her body and soul, though it just happened that two of them were monsters. Emily looks wonderful in her Victorian outfits, and played out Gwen's desperation and loyalty to the Talbot family quite convincingly.
Unsurprisingly, Anthony Hopkins stole the show for me as Sir John Talbot. I had guessed before going in that he was also cursed, and I guess it wasn't that hard to figure out along with the reveal half way through the film. He played the role of Sir John with a quiet menace, and as a man who was quite comfortable with the beast inside him, who knew what the beast wanted, and gave in to its possessiveness and evil. I've always preferred Hopkins villianous roles to his heroic ones, save for Van Helsing in Dracula, and one only thinks he needs to be cast in a remake of Frankenstein to be associated with the whole range of classic monsters.
Hugo Weaving was great as Inspector Aberline, a man cursed with his own failure to put a premature stop to the Ripper murders, and to give respect back to his name by investigating the murders of Blackmoor. Hugo plays the role with a direct yet cool calculation, using the past knowledge and a skeptical analysis to determine the facts of the crime, and it almost destroys him to see that the supernatural is indeed real and responsible for the carnage in Blackmoor.
I assumed then and there that he now would consider a similar theory for the Jack the Ripper murders which were just as ghastly as they were here. I didn't suspect he would get bitten at the end and the curse passed on, and although I am not sure of a sequel I would unsure if Aberline's character would headline, but if he did would be be hero or villain?
Most importantly was the Gothic Landscapes and settings of this film. Besides an obvious plot of tragedy and curses, the use of decayed English Landmarks such as Chatsworth House, Castle Combe and Stowe house were a win for me, besides the horsedrawn hearses and Gothic Mausoleums. The Gothic costuming was exquisite, it's not hard to see that Victorian England is my favourite point in history as are it's literature and fashions.
If I had problems with the film it was the following: For starters I don't think the budding romance between Lawrence and Gwen was that believable. Surely people can fall for each other fast in a sexual way, but this was Victorian England and we are lead to believe that in a short amount of time that both Lawrence and Gwen fall head over heels for each other, even though they did not share many scenes, nor to my knowledge spend much real time together. Sure Gwen watched over him while he recovered, but there was no horseriding, no picnics out on the hills, not a day in London attending the theatre or dining in fine restaurants where they could have grown to love each other and develop their tragic romance.
Lawrence spends most of the film either investigating his brother's murder, recovering in bed, killing people as a werewolf, or locked up and tortured in an asylum. There really wasn't time for an ill-fated romance to blossom let alone enough time for 'true love' to win out to end the curse.
My other problem was the use of CGI though this is only minor. The filmmakers had Rick Baker for this film, and if you don't know who he is I only have to mention An American Werewolf in London for you to get on the same page. He constructed the suit and prosthetics for Del Toro to wear but the transformation itself was computer generated and you could tell.
It was almost flawless but for an old horror fan like me, prosthetics and other make-up effects will always be the way for me. Additionally even though they shot the film in medieval villagers like Wiltshire and Chatsworth, changing London landmarks such as The London Bridge and Big Ben and The Tower of London etc just looked fake, and possessed that same dark blue hue that ravages the modern Underworld films, though the werewolves and story in this are much better.
In the end I still enjoyed this immensely, and I plan on seeing it again next week.
My Grade is A-.