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The Wolfman review

Snikt! Snikt! Aaargh!

Right from the off, The Wolfman bares its intentions to tell a (literally) ripping yarn. Suddenly, the beast is there in front of us, but only for split-second, only long enough to leave two savage tears in the face and belly of a man stumbling to his death through a moonlit forest.

This 21st-Century Wolfman now has preternatural speed, flashing across the screen, leaving only jagged slash marks in his wake. And director Joe Johnston doesn’t shy from gross-out gore: torn flesh, severed limbs, spilled entrails, gooey wounds stitched in close-up and even one poor fellow getting Wolfie’s giant claws straight through his gob.

But with a vibe straight from Sleepy Hollow (thanks to scripter Andrew Kevin Walker and scorer Danny Elfman), Johnston’s remake of the 1941 classic is more homage than horror. Lovely Gothic textures help disguise the CG that takes us to 1880s England, where Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) arrives at his estranged father’s (Anthony Hopkins) country estate to investigate what left his brother looking like abattoir off-cuts.

The meat on the acting menu is bloody ham. It’s carved off in chunks by Hopkins and slivers by Hugo Weaving’s Inspector Abeline. That’s no bad thing – there’s something unavoidably camp about a bipedal wolf in tattered Hulk-style clothes scampering across rooftops. But as he transforms via cut-aways to CG contortions, del Toro’s hairy incarnation seems caught between horrifying and humane. He’s not enough of either, despite the star/producer’s dark-eyed, insular performance.

That tortuous production history may be to blame, but this Wolfman bounds along in disjointed scenes, finally deflating on a Van Helsing-style monster scrap. There was definitely a better movie in the script, as Talbot searches his psyche to discover a monster id and a real beast in the basement.

An enjoyably bloody homage to Universal’s classic hair ’em, scare ’em monster. There’s plenty of gore and guts to cheer; it just needed more of everything else: heart, horror, affection and artistry.  

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