REVIEW: Having dabbled in horror with Sam Raimi’s sometimes seriously disturbing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel has gone more fully dark with the “special presentation” Werewolf By Night.
Released on Disney+ during Hollywood’s traditional “Halloween season” (better known as the month of October), this hour-long, self-contained story is a taut tale of terror that’s also a beautifully shot black-and-white homage to the Universal Horror movies of the 1920s and ‘30s.
Set in the “darkness of our modern world where monsters dwell”, the focus is on both them and those who hunt and slaughter them with pride.
None of the latter have been more prolific than the Bloodstone family, but with their patriarch Ulysses dead, a successor to wield the supernatural relic that share’s his surname – and offers strength, protection and longevity to the possessor – is required.
Werewolf by Night represents something of a departure from the usual Marvel storytelling formats.
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To decide who that should be, his widow Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) has gathered together hunters from around the globe (death-dealing mercenaries who collectively have achieved more than 200 kills) to take on “a monster unlike anything you’ve faced before”.
Amongst the group are the larger-than-life Jovan (Kirk Thatcher), the deceptively benign Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Ulysses’ estranged daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly), much to the chagrin of many of the others.
“We all earned the right to hunt, but she gets to crash this thing like it’s a backyard wedding?” the elegant Barasso (Daniel J. Watts) opines, aggrieved at her perceived lack of murderous credentials.
Verussa though, assures him there will be no special treatment for her step-daughter: “She will be fair game”. All that’s left is to detail the rules – participants can only use weapons found on the course, it’s every hunter for themselves and those who do not survive will be honoured appropriately – before both the monster and those on its trail are released.
Atmospherically shot and tautly edited, acclaimed composer Michael Giacchino’s (everything from the Jurassic World series to Jojo Rabbit) first major project behind the camera is a terrific example of a simple premise, smartly executed.
While some may see this as a little too slight compared to the Marvel magnum opuses of the past few years, it’s proof, like last year’s What If? animated series that not all their storytelling needs to be in three-hour-blockbuster, or six-part-series chunks (and word is, that like episodes in that show, this will prove to be much more important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than it first looks).
Giacchino does an effective job of ramping up the tension early – and keeping it there – while throwing in a few twists and turns, some eye-catching visual flourishes (little Spielbergian bursts of colour against the crisp monochrome) and pockets of humour to lighten the rather dark premise.
Yes, it is yet another quest for a stone, but it’s a delightful diversion that offers – and opens – up an intriguing, stylish new avenue of the seemingly ever expanding Marvel multi-verse.
Werewolf By Night is now streaming on Disney+.