With Werewolf by Night premiering on Disney +, director Michael Giacchino (composer: The Incredibles, Doctor Strange) takes Phase 4 into the Universal Monsters world. Written by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron and starring Laura Donnelly (the Nevers), Gael Garcia Bernal (Old), Harriet Sansom Harris (Frasier), and Kirk Thatcher (Muppets Haunted Mansion).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us over ten years of spectacle, excitement, heartache, and those stand-up and cheers moments. What it hasn't given us is horror. That is until this most recent phase in the MCU. Wandavision and Moon knight touched on the dark arts and the mystical. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness brought a little Evil Dead into the fold with director Sam Rami behind the camera. Now we're getting monsters.
After the death of their patriarch Ulysses Bloodstone, five renowned monster hunters are called to his estate, Bloodstone Manor, by his widow Verussa (Harris). They are to participate in a contest where the winner will be the new leader and claim the Bloodstone and its powers. Arriving at the manor is Ulysses' estranged daughter Elsa (Donnelly), who also plans to compete despite her stepmother's disapproval.
With the Bloodstone attached to the creature, claiming to weaken the beast but also make them aggressive and angry, they will be hunting in the maze that is the back garden of the grounds. As the contestants and the monster are released, it will be everyone for themselves as they look for weapons hidden throughout the arena.
While the premise is pretty cut and dry, much more is beneath the surface. Jack Russell (Bernal) is the first to go in, but despite having the highest kill count of the bunch, he isn't looking for a weapon. He's searching for the monster itself. It turns out it's his friend "Ted," the beast in question, who has a habit of getting into trouble as Jack has gotten him out of a few scrapes during their friendship. Marvel fans will know the creature by another name, Man-Thing (a botched attempt to re-create the Captain Marvel super serum in a swamp). Nerd alert, I know.
With the Bloodstone removed thanks to Elsa, the monster escapes into the forest, but the Bloodstone reveals another creature amongst the group when Jack attempts to pick it up, only to be knocked out by its power. With Russell and Elsa locked in a cage together, Verussa will try to draw the monster out and rid herself of two problems simultaneously. But will her plan work, or by awakening the monstrosity within Jack, is she conjuring up something much worse.
At a brisk 55 minutes, Werewolf by Night is a fun, quick watch for the Spooky season. The black-in-white aesthetic calls to mind classic horror movies from the drive-in days. The torches as a light source and heavy fog add to the atmosphere's eeriness. Even the creature's make-up is much more on par with the Wolfman than an American Werewolf in London, for example. A transformation scene done through shadows is my favorite shot of the movie, in both the framing and reaction by the actors.
Based on the original trailer, I wasn't expecting so much humor in Werewolf by Night. Though not laugh-out-loud funny as in Thor: Ragnarok or Ant-Man, I expected much more grim storytelling, but it is a Marvel, after all. That's not to say it doesn't go there with the violence. I love the claustrophobic nature of the arena setting. Being a maze, there is danger around every corner from both humans and creatures alike. Plenty of people are killed in this short, some much more graphic than others (axe to the head being a standout), and I
especially enjoyed the blood splatter on the camera lens at a certain point. Man-Thing himself has an effective way of dispatching its foes that you'll find quite amusing too.
With his debut, Michael Giacchino brings a stylized throwback to the pioneers of horror while introducing the supernatural to the MCU. With a stellar score composed by Giacchino, it's clear this was his passion project. Laura Donnelly and Gael Garcia Bernal bring a welcome international flavor to their characters while giving solid, enjoyable performances and chemistry to these unlikely allies. Along with the introduction to "Ted," it's clear the MCU is going to the darker regions for its next phase. With connections to Moon Knight and Blade, I only hope the introduction of Werewolf by Night means we will be getting a Ghost Rider soon. Now Streaming on Disney +.