The latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Werewolf by Night, was just released on Disney + in time for the Halloween season. Werewolf by Night is actually a rarity these days, a television film and only about an hour, at that. More interesting is that like many projects in the MCU’s Phase Four, it is not the typical superhero slugfest. In fact, the film does not make any kind of overt connection to the larger MCU, but it ends up enriching the MCU with its solidly supernatural motif.
Filmed largely in black and white, the film follows Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a so-called monster hunter, who arrives at a spooky manor and participates in a ceremonial hunt of a captured monster held in a maze in the manor’s grounds. The prize for finding the monster is a mystical stone called the Bloodstone that was once wielded by Ulysses Bloodstone, who died recently. During the hunt, Jack teams up with fellow monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of Ulysses Bloodstone. Jack is only interested in finding the monster, while Elsa wants the Bloodstone. During the hunt the two must deal with rival monster hunters and Jack’s hidden secrets.
Werewolf by Night, is surprisingly fun and spooky. It clearly harkens back to the old Universal classic horror films from the ’40s featuring Dracula, the Wolfwman and other famous monsters. But the film also has a grindhouse, 1970s feel with its graphic violence (muted by the black and white photography), it is probably the most violent MCU offering to date and is appropriate for this kind of project.
The film’s atmosphere is perfect for the story it tells and has the right amount of jump scares and thrills. The film could have benefited from a slightly longer length to flesh out the story and characters, but supposedly there was extra footage that was deleted because they were too comical and Marvel Studios is smarting over recent criticism that their projects are too comical. It would be a joy to see a followup to Werewolf by Night, as there is so much about Jack Russell and Elsa Bloodstone that we viewers are not aware of and there is a lot of potential with the those two. Also, it would be interesting to see how they fit in with the larger MCU, and the same goes for the third standout character in the film, Man-Thing. In addition to the Werewolf, the hulking, moss-covered monstrosity is perfectly comics accurate and imposing. The effects used to bring the creature to life were very impressive, in fact, it was clear most of the film’s budget was held back to benefit Man-Thing’s appearances. If anything, a Man-Thing spinoff film or series must be made.
As for the title character, he was obviously a person wearing monster makeup, but it was a refreshing throwback to the CG that has taken over. More importantly despite the low-tech approach to how he is presented, the monstrous Werewolf was very terrifying with his savage and animalistic fights.
Director Michael Giacchino creates a moody and dark atmosphere filled with shadows and a sense of dread, which is what made the old Universal horror films so beloved. His directorial debut is quite impressive given that he is best known for his distinct film scores (by the way, he also scored this film and his work was brilliant as always). Given the way he was able to bring out the scares and deliver a solid horror film, he should be seriously considered to direct the Blade film, given that Marvel Studios is now scrambling to find a director for that project. Werewolf by Night demonstrates that Giacchino has the skills to give us a great vampire film.
Unlike some misfires in Phase Four of the MCU, Werewolf by Night is a textbook example of doing something different that engages the viewers and unveals spooky new corners of the growing MCU.