Werewolf by Night TV Special Review (Spoiler Free)
Marvel’s first Halloween special, is a love letter to old-school monster flicks from the 30s & easily the best Phase 4 entry. A real surprise, worth a watch during the spooky season!
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy / Horror
Director: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Gael Garcìa Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Kirk R. Thatcher, Eugenie Bondurant, Daniel J. Watts, Leonardo Nam & Carey Jones.
Run Time: 53 min.
US Release: 07 October 2022 (Disney+)
UK Release: 07 October 2022 (Disney+)
German Release: 07 October 2022 (Disney+)
Marvel’s first television special, was finally revealed in September with Michael Giacchino making his “feature” directorial debut, as well as composing the score for his short flick. Honestly, after the disappointing Phase Four releases, especially the toxic She-Hulk series, I wasn’t even planning on watching this. Then friends of mine started recommending it and I began seeing a lot of positive reviews for it, so I finally forced myself to sit through it last weekend… Suffice it to say, I was positively blown away! So let’s slash into my review of Werewolf by Night!
A secret group of monster hunters gather at Bloodstone Castle, following the death of their leader Ulysses, to engage in a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic, which will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.
Based on the Marvel comics of the same name, Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron co-wrote the script for the cinematic adaptation. Both worked for previous Marvel TV projects Hawkeye, WandaVision plus Moon Knight, creating serious doubts about the quality of this special. Luckily, this might be the most original Marvel production, structurally as well as content-wise, setting itself apart from the stale tone of all Phase Four releases.
The screenplay was approached like an episode of The Twilight Zone; a contained story in itself, treated like a short opening window, in which viewers can witness one night in the life of Jack Russel and Elsa Bloodstone. The plot format was based on the layout of Hooper’s Poltergeist, while the overall tone was inspired by Universal’s Monster flicks of the 30s/40s. The atmosphere of classic horror movies is dominant throughout its run-time, setting new grounds for the MCU to explore. This plays like a homage to these pictures.
If there is one aspect to criticise, it's the short runtime of the special. It was an entertaining short film and I wouldn’t have minded seeing a longer version of the narrative. As to how it fits into the grander MCU, the introductory segment acknowledges the events from the Avengers, though states that monsters traversed the planet way before superheroes or aliens did.
Dialogues were also inspired by the style of classic horror features, with recitals of monologues plus conversation being exaggerated. Some might find this silly, though I enjoyed the commitment.
Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell, a.k.a the titular Werewolf, gives his character a scoundrel charm, yet not much else is said about his past. He is a well-mannered gentleman, but the persona of Jack Russell is simply shrouded in mystery, which made him so much more compelling as a lead, leaving us longing for more! Bernal truly gave a fantastic rendition, with the limited information on his role.
Laura Donelly is cast as Elsa Bloodstone, estranged daughter, as well as, technically the heiress to her deceased father’s legacy, but given her disgust for the family trade, she was disowned. Elsa returns to prove to her family that she is her own person, free of tradition, seeking to end the monster hunting. Donelly gives her character a likeable, yet equally fierce presence. She also performed her stunts to perfection!
Harriet Sansom Harris plays Ulysses’ Widow and Elsa’s stepmother Verussa Bloodstone, who is leading the secret society of hunters. Interested in maintaining control, Verussa sees an opportunity for a more powerful role, now that her husband died. Harris gives her character a borderline maniacal personality.
Giacchino did a magnificent job behind the camera, considering that this was his first major directorial project. The look fully commits to its 1930 aesthetics; from the opening credits to the colour correction into black-and-white, even including film grain, dust and cigarette burns, all to make it feel as if watching a motion picture from that era. Breathtaking wide shots are used to capture the action plus fast-moving battles, in all their glory, which were fantastically choreographed!
This is also a surprisingly bloody entry into the MCU! The studio always played it safe with the intensity of violence, up until now. With a mix of visual and practical effects, the gore looks savage. That said, the decolouration to black-and-white might have also helped to make it seem less brutal. The werewolf's design was also practical, reminiscent of The Wolf Man, as the director wanted audiences to see the actor’s face in its monster form. The surprise character was rendered through a merger of practical suits plus animatronics, all enhanced with CG.
The musical composition is equally as brilliant, reminiscent of old gothic horror or fairytales. The orchestral sounds, with the brass crescendos, really compliments the visual flair and storytelling.
Verdict: Michael Giacchino took this opportunity to prove his directorial vision and it fully paid out! This is the most unique MCU property since the first Guardians of the Galaxy, it is the very first horror movie, featuring the Marvel banner, but most important - it is the best thing to come out of a very mediocre Phase 4! The story is engaging, including subtle humour and gorgeous action scenes. Gael García Bernal is charismatic as Jack Russel, having good chemistry with Laura Donnelly, who also gave a great rendition! The cinematography is reminiscent of the old Universal monster featurettes, including practical effects and make-up for the werewolf design. The surprise character is a marvellous-looking mix of CGI and practical effects. The music underlines Giacchino’s genius. This is a fun addition to a Halloween horror marathon! Werewolf by Night obtains an 8.0 out of 10.
I highly recommend this TV Special by Marvel Studios, should you not have seen it yet. As always, thank you for reading! Please subscribe if you like the content!