Werewolf by Night (2022)
There’s no escaping the night.
It’s a dark and stormy night in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and five of the world’s greatest monster hunters have gathered at Bloodstone Manor at the behest of Verussa Bloodstone (Harriet Sansom Harris) on the occasion of the death of her husband, Ulysses Bloodstone (Erik Beck, voice by Richard Dixon), who was the top dog in this whole monster hunting business. They’re going to compete for the Bloodstone, a word I’m getting sick of typing, and also a magical gem that grants the wielder increased strength and a longer lifespan. One of the competitors is Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly, and there’s that bloody word again), Ulysses’ and Verussa’s estranged daughter, who isn’t keen on this monster-wrangling business but is in it to win it.
Also in the mix is Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), and if you’re au fait with comic book naming conventions, you’re already clued into the fact that the fella with the canine moniker is the titular Werewolf by Night. Jack’s agenda here is twofold: snag the Bloodstone, but also rescue the monster the gathered hunters are tasked with tracking down and eliminating (the identity of this critter is a fun surprise, so I won’t ruin it). And we’re off and running.
Marvel has kind of danced around their more horror-oriented properties and characters for a while now. Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill reportedly jumped ship from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness when their intentions to make it a straight-up horror movie were cooly received. Ghost Rider showed up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 – 20) for a minute there, and we’re supposed to get Mahershala Ali in a Blade reboot at some point, but that seems to have been kicked down the road for now. But this tight little TV special is a dyed-in-the-wool horror romp replete with monsters, magic, and gore. It’s black and white gore, though; Werewolf by Night sports a beautiful silvery monochrome palette courtesy of cinematographer Zoë White that both homages the classic Universal Monsters aesthetic and lets the production get away with a little more blood and dismemberment than we usually see in the MCU.
Interestingly, this one comes to us courtesy of composer Michael Giacchino, aka the guy who wrote the Marvel fanfare, among many other accomplishments. Giacchino has a couple of shorts under his belt, directorially speaking, but Werewolf by Night marks his biggest work in the field yet, and he acquits himself well. The word that comes to mind is “considered,” mainly because “composed” is too on the nose. There’s a crisp deliberateness to the staging, the framing, and cutting that speaks of careful planning.
So, how’s the werewolf?
Pretty good — they’ve gone for a classic Lon Chaney Jr. style wolfman design to retain as much of Bernal’s expressive range as possible, which is all well and good but sacrifices a certain degree of monstrousness. Still, it fits with the overall “Backlot Gothic” thing the special has going on, and the gently creepy atmosphere makes up for any shortcomings.
All up, Werewolf by Night is a solid effort and a fun little detour into less well-trod genre territory for Marvel. It’s also pretty self-contained; we could return to these characters down the track, or this could be their only outing, and either is fine. After so much strained web-weaving between the various Marvel shows and movies, that actually feels fresher than anything else on offer.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Travis Johnson