Since Disney+ launched, Marvel hasn’t been afraid to use the streaming service as a testing ground for more diverse genre projects. Werewolf by Night is a perfect example of that.
The first of what Marvel Studios is dubbing ‘Special Presentations’, Werewolf By Night is an hour-long standalone story that brings an old-school horror movie aesthetic to the MCU. It feels like a very Marvel Studios take on a classic film genre, and it’s quite refreshing to see the franchise experiment this way.
Werewolf By Night draws from well-loved comics but manages to keep things nice and simple.
Prolific monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone has died and his treasured Bloodstone (what is it with Marvel and stones?), is now up for grabs. To decide its next owner, a ceremonial hunt takes place within a creepy walled property with monster-hunters from all around coming together on one night to face a feared beast. But it doesn’t take long for them to realise that there’s a monster hidden amid the monster hunters.
Included in the contenders are Gael Garcia Bernal’s Jack Russell and Laura Donnelly’s Elsa Bloodstone, who stand out amongst a pretty mundane ensemble. Their duo have a few honest exchanges, peppered with sass and heart, but their relationship just isn’t given enough room to go anywhere. However, Bernal and Donnell’s performances can’t be faulted, with both actors fully committed to the retro horror vibe Werewolf by Night strives for.
Speaking of which, Werewolf by Night really is all about style.
Michael Giacchino is perhaps better known for his success as a composer (The Batman, Lightyear, Thor: Love and Thunder) but he proves himself to be a true lover of cinema and an expert in his craft in his directorial debut.
Werewolf by Night is a love letter to vintage horror. The special is presented entirely in black and white and mimics the film grain and gothic lighting of films of that era. Giacchino also manages to intersperse moments of modern filmmaking throughout, like the occasional deliberate use of colour or the arrival of a computer-generated monster.
Like Marvel’s Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night isn’t afraid to lean heavily into its genre with moments of campy horror and bloody violence that push the boundaries of what the MCU has done previously. It’s not the kind of horror that will have you hiding behind a blanket, but the film is able to build genuine moments of tension with creative framing and editing that focuses on what is unseen.
Perhaps the only letdown is the aforementioned werewolf. When the lycanthrope arrives on screen after much build-up, it’s in a shaggy prosthetic suit that feels like it’s been ripped right out of Teen Wolf. This does, of course, fit the style of the piece, but when you consider that Werewolf by Night contains a startlingly realistic CGI Man-Thing, it leaves you wishing the werewolf had a bit more design flair to warrant the terror it receives.
At 52 minutes, Werewolf by Night is quicker and easier to watch than an episode of House of the Dragon. Its combination of a compelling premise, thrilling action and aesthetic style makes it an easy Halloween watch that’s hard to regret.
This short self-contained take isn’t Marvel’s typical fare, and its use of horror tropes over blockbuster superhero grittiness will no doubt put some fans offside.
But as far as experiments go, this is a successful one. It’s easy to see how this Special Presentation format could offer up even more room for the superhero cinematic universe to expand into new territory.
Werewolf by Night review: The verdict
Pros: Great homage to vintage horror, keeps the story simple, Man-Thing (!)
Cons: The werewolf is a let-down.
Watch it if you liked: Moon Knight, Nosferatu, The Wolf Man
Werewolf By Night premieres on Disney+ on October 7.
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