This much-delayed horror thriller should delight fans of a fey mythical lycanthrope even if it may be too obvious and overwrought for its own good.
Inspired by its classic 1941 predecessor, The Wolfman stars Benicio del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt, and is set in the late 19th Century in and around the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor.
Joe Johnston's fairly compact, but lumbering yarn involving bloodlust and shocking concerning the harboring of family issues is approached with a certain stylish dichotomy.
Del Toro's Lawrence Talbot has been residing Stateside as an actor though on a London tour. A son of a nobleman, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins), receives a letter from his brother's fiancee, Gwen Conliffe (Blunt, appealing in The Young Victoria) to help her after the disappearance of her brother.
The adaptation of Curt Siodmak's 1941 original screenplay by David Self and Andrew Kevin Walker draws noticeably well from the melting, simmering pot of this genre with similarly realized characters like The Mummy and Frankenstein or even The Incredible Hulk. Blackmoor's denizens are dealing with an insatiable bruteness, and with the investigation of Scotland Yard's Francis Aberline (Hugo Weaving) and Lawrence himself comes a startling series of events.
The requisite pathos and conflict are given some tactical heft as Johnston's visual effects background is demonstrated through the compulsion to gypsies, silver bullets, superstition, ghosts, the full moon, and curses. It isn't fettered by the richer symbolism involved with what has haunted Lawrence (there are flashbacks) from his childhood since the night his mother died. Noteworthy craft contributions are made by Rick Baker in the special make up effects as well as the brooding score by Danny Elfman.
Del Toro puts some charge and authentic strokes into such a character with a palpable albatross hanging over him and Blunt evinces the right kind of earnestness and sensitivity into someone so devoted like Gwen.
Amid the barren plains and woods of an England unable to sleep with a murderer on the moor, Hopkins nicely tickles the ivories as the tortured man with a large, messy manor who avers, "Never look back; the past is a wilderness of horrors." Weaving sharply etches out his suspicious, by-the-book inspector, while Geraldine Chaplin brings know-how to the mystic Maleva and, more briefly, Art Malik as a faithful servant to Sir John.
The Wolfman might be hopelessly old-fashioned to a fault for some in its realization of primal fears and the thrills that come from them. It still has the ability to howl in a way with the kind of action and visuals viewers can relish even if it lacks the kind of frightful imagination when a legacy of horror was launched with one Lon Chaney, Jr.