By Carter James
At first, I did not care about “Werewolf by Night” and for many months was skeptical to see what the TV special would entail for Marvel Studios. Marvel’s Phase 4 has been mostly disappointing and the little information behind the project is what led me to putting this off my radar. But, as soon as the trailer dropped online at D23, all my skepticism turned into pure excitement. It’s safe to say that it exceeded my expectations.
“Werewolf by Night” is about a group of monster hunters coming together to fight each other for the Bloodstone, a mystical amulet once used by their now deceased leader. What the hunters soon find out is that one of them is a monster.
All the conventions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both good and bad, are still here. What makes this stand out from a conventional MCU project is the pure passion behind it. There are no pre-existing plot lines or, outright, eventual arcs that are being woven in. Sure, characters are introduced that could play key roles in the franchise’s future, but the main concern here is making a compelling story.
While this is a very distinct and visually different project from the rest of the MCU, there are still pacing issues that every single project in the franchise has. I appreciated the slow burn as it helped with worldbuilding and adding classic horror elements such as tense moments leading up to jump scares. That being said, the special is only 50 minutes, and towards the end of the second act, the rushed pacing Marvel is infamous for is there.
Without a doubt, the horror elements are the clear standout of the special. Film composer, Michael Giacchino, has a grand directorial debut. For a first-time director, he flexes his knack for creativity and respectfully pays homage to monster movies of the past. He had a lot to prove as a director and composer, and wonderfully delivers in both aspects.
As for those aspects, boundaries are pushed, and gore is heavily featured. I was pleased to see the horror aspect reach its full potential, as the special does not hold back in what is shown on screen.
Gael Garcia Bernal is great as Jack Russel, the Werewolf by Night. He takes what could’ve been a very moody and tragic character, and makes him charismatic and caring, but does not hold back once he turns into the werewolf.
Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone is a standout performance, as Bloodstone is the emotional center of the story.
The technical aspects are the key part of what make “Werewolf by Night” so special. Giacchino and cinematographer Zoe White’s use of black and white cinematography is what sells the classic monster movie aesthetic. The heavy use of practical effects was an integral and welcomed addition, as I’ve grown tired of Marvel’s incessant use of CGI. The production design and costumes are very unique, making it seem like this was a period piece when it actually is set in the modern day MCU.
“Werewolf by Night” is a wildly creative step in the right direction for the MCU. It’s an airtight story chocked full of gory fun and classic horror homages. Though style is the initial draw, the solid and, surprisingly, heartfelt character work is what kept me invested. If you’re looking for something quick, fun and gory this Halloween, “Werewolf by Night” is for you. 4/5.