I recently had an opportunity to watch The Wolfman (2010). It was a film I had been looking forward to seeing as a new version of a Universal Studios horror classic. I did not find it very satisfying, but it did include some interesting elements and food for thought.
Like the 1941 version of the film starring Lon Chaney, Jr., the current version tells the story of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) who responds to the pleas of Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), his late brother’s fiancée, in returning to the family estate in England in an attempt to discover the cause of his brother’s brutal death. His return home brings Lawrence face to face with his estranged father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), that he has not seen for years. As Lawrence investigates the strange and grisly circumstances surrounding his brother’s death he soon finds that it is connected to a vicious beast stalking the countryside, which may have a long connection to the Talbot family and Lawrence’s lifelong nightmares and tensions with his father.
When I first heard the announcement of this film’s production I was cautiously optimistic. It was good to hear of an attempted return to the iconic monsters of old and a move in horror away from our current fixations on “torture-porn” and slasher films, but with the current state of horror I was wary that a good film could be made, and one that would appeal to modern audiences. Sadly, my fears played out. On the positive side, The Wolfman includes some elements that I enjoyed, including a shift away from a contemporary setting to the “foreign” settings of horror in the days of Universal’s classics. The makeup effects under the leadership of Rick Baker were outstanding, as were some of the CGI effects in the recreation of nineteenth century England. But beyond this specific elements of the film were lacking, leading to an overall dissatisfaction withe project as a whole. The CGI effects related to the werewolf were not convincing, and more attention should have been paid to this key aspect of the film or it should have been abandoned in favor of makeup and prosthetic effects. I also found the concluding element of the story’s narrative disappointing in pitting werewolf-cursed father against son in a lycan battle to the death.
But even with an overall disappointment with this film I did find one element of particular interest. As Lawrence comes to terms with his curse he eventually comes to realize that his father shares it with him. Indeed, it was his father who killed his brother and mother, and bit Lawrence creating the next generation of the werewolf. As part of this unfolding revelation, in one scene Sir John shows Lawrence a room which includes a restraining chair and a memorial to his wife. Sir John explains that he was driven by guilt over his curse and the murder of his wife to restrain himself with each full moon so that he could not go on killing sprees. But eventually, Sir John came to embrace his curse and the violence that goes with it. He hopes that his son, struggling with the reality of his uncontrollable violent nature, will as well. As he says to Lawrence, “The beast will have its day. The beast will out.”
In past depictions of the werewolf the focus has been on human beings who lose control as they are transformed and consumed by an inner monstrousness. Little interest has been shown by the cursed individual in attempting to control the monster. But as time goes more more reflection has taken place on understanding the werewolf as a metaphor for our inner evil selves, and with it has come the occasional depiction of attempts to control this evil. For example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer the character Oz (Seth Green) is a werewolf who locks himself away each cycle of the full moon so that he cannot harm others. Oz recognizes his inner beast but takes steps to control and contain it. In similar fashion, The Wolfman raises the specter of humanity’s inner beast and presents us with the choice of reveling in the beast’s ability to destroy, or taking whatever steps are necessary to control it.
News broadcasts demonstrate each day that our beasts roam all too freely. But films like The Wolfman remind us that we have a choice and we must constantly ask ourselves individually and collectively, must the beast have its day?