Werewolf by Night (2022) Review

Werewolf by Night is a decent one-shot TV special, with an interesting presentation and straightforward story.

Werewolf by Night (2022) is an action-horror monster movie special released exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service, directed and scored by Michael Giacchino. The special stars Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone and Gael Garcia Bernal as Jack Russell.

Werewolf by Night is based on a Marvel comic of the same name, and as such takes place within the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. At fifty three minutes long, this is being presented as a TV special rather than a movie or series, with Disney+ terming it a ‘Marvel special presentation’. This is quite a neat way for Marvel to explore some of it’s lesser known characters and one-shot stories, without having to cram them into the existing narratives of other MCU characters.

As such, whilst this does take place within the MCU, there’s no real connection to it present within the special, it can be treated as a standalone. The premise is that a famed monster hunter has died, Ulysses Bloodstone, and as part of his funeral rites, he is holding a competition to determine the worthy successor of his powerful artifact, the bloodstone. Several monster hunters from around the world attend the ceremony, and they are given a simple task: Ulysses’ widow will release a monster into the grounds of his mansion, and the first one to kill the beast gets the reward.

It was a good decision to give the special such a simple premise. They set out the objective early on, without wasting too much time getting into the meat of the story. Complicating matters is that one of the hunters is Ulysses’ daughter, Elsa, whom seemingly had a strained relationship with her father. As the story progresses, we learn that one of the participants, Jack Russell, is not actually there to kill the monster but to save it. This leads to changing alliances, and of course, lots of fighting.

It’s not a complicated story, and that serves the special well. I enjoyed watching the two main characters interact, and it’s always good to see stories that don’t feature straightforward heroes and villains. Both Elsa and Jack do things which would be considered unheroic, yet they manage to stay within the realms of likeability enough to keep you rooting for them. That being said, there was a lot left unsaid, specifically about Elsa’s strained familial relationship. Ultimately, learning more about this wouldn’t have been integral to the plot, and it seemingly leaves the door open for more chapters in this tale.

The presentation of the special is probably its most interesting factor. Giacchino chose to style the film as if it was a 1930’s Universal monster movie, complete in black and white, with fake film grain to boot. I think it works well, it definitely sets it apart from the very digital and pristine image that most Marvel entries have. Despite its charm, it doesn’t go quite far enough. Some of the actors, such as Harriet Sansom Harris, who plays Verussa Bloodstone, are clearly playing up to that 1930’s transatlantic style – whilst others are simply talking as they would in any other movie. Additionally, a lot of the shots are too complicated, and the set design far more detailed than you would ever have seen in those movies back in the day.

I will give the filmmakers some credit though – specifically for the werewolf design. They did not use CGI, but went with full make-up and practical costume design. It looks great, it perfectly matches the style and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was straight out of a classic Lon Cheney Jr werewolf movie. Additionally, the music matched the period well, giving the film the right atmosphere and feeling.

This was right up until the ending. Without putting spoilers, I found a portion of the ending very strange indeed. It contains a reference to another 1930s classic, and I just thought the inclusion was jarring and I couldn’t understand what the filmmaker was intending with this reference. It seemingly came out of nowhere and I think was perhaps the result of the writer not knowing how to end the story.

Ultimately, Werewolf by Night is an okay watch. It’s not a masterpiece but it is a fun special – apt to watch around the spooky season. I’d say that if Marvel are intending to make more one-shot specials to flesh out their universe, then they have made a good start.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Final Rating – 6.5/10

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