Over the Halloween season, I watched the new special presentation on Disney+, Marvel’s Werewolf by Night directed by Michael Giacchino, because I felt obligated to do so. It’s a werewolf movie and I watch all werewolf movies despite how much 99.9% of them are terrible and make me profoundly sad and/or angry, and it’s also Werewolf by Night, whose material I have enjoyed at times in the past (despite the name of his character; more on that soon).
This one wasn’t any different. I was really hoping it would be. I came into this one with high hopes, and they were dashed to tiny bits.
If you liked Werewolf by Night, then good for you! More power to you. I’m happy for your sake. But I didn’t like it at all, and if you’re going to be offended by the fact that I personally thought it was outright terrible and has no right to call itself a werewolf movie, please do not continue beyond this point. Because I’m not pulling any punches. Well, I might be pulling a few, but anyway, I am going to get a bit brutal here. This isn’t some kind of professional review. I am roasting this, and I am going to great lengths to do so, because this was cathartic for me.
Disclaimer: THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS and in fact contains A FULL SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION OF THE ENTIRE FILM.
The album cover for the music of Werewolf by Night, which falsely implies it is about a werewolf
Continue at your own risk of spoilers and ruthless savagery for this movie that should have been named Man Thing!
I will open first with the statement that I am a huge cinephile. A film nerd. A crazed movie fan. I’m the person who will talk to you about every behind the scenes thing and what lenses everyone was using and how they did every tiny thing. Going to the movies is my favorite thing on the face of planet earth, and I think film is the ultimate storytelling medium that mankind as a whole has always striven for since we were telling tales around the campfire as hunter-gatherers; it is the pinnacle of all storytelling that brings together almost every other possible medium; it is a true beauty to behold, especially with an audience of fellow strangers who, for one unifying instant, know each other and relate to each other through the story unfolding before them–
Anyway, my point is, I really freaking love movies.
With that out there, as this is my first time really posting a film review, I have of course in this modern era ended up reviewing something that is direct to streaming. I personally do not like streaming. Call me old-fashioned. I won’t get into all that right now, even though I could – for hours on end.
With ALL that said, let’s get back to the matter at hand: Werewolf by Night.
I have but one question to ask of this movie: why is it billed as a werewolf movie?
Why on earth is this showcased as a werewolf movie? Why did Michael Giacchino emphasize so much, and get my hopes up, saying that he, and I quote from this interview…
I was having a conversation with Kevin Feige one day, and he said, “Well, if you’re going to direct, what do you want to direct?” And I was like, “Werewolf by Night. Absolutely” because they were comics that I used to buy when I was a kid. I still have the ones I did buy when I was a kid. I always loved that character and I just love werewolves.
That he “just love[s] werewolves”? The movie implies he just loves moss monsters.
I want to state up front and in bold this movie isn’t even about the werewolf. You can argue with me about that, but it won’t really change the fact that the word “werewolf” is never said in this movie. I mean, I’m not even kidding – even the word “wolf” is never said in this movie. The hero’s moniker is Werewolf by Night, the title of the movie is Werewolf by Night, all the promo material is covered in him in werewolf form and pictures of full moons and spooky trees and all those great things you want from werewolf pictures, but we get no sense of that.
There is minimal, vague discussion of what exactly Jack is or turns into, what his curse is, and how it works. It’s the barest bones. We get a mention of the moon, at least, but of course, that isn’t even what makes him turn in this instance, so that’s out the window. It’s just a spoken line.
There is no night and/or moon imagery that evokes those werewolf feelings, the werewolf never howls, there is no mention of wolves or werewolves, there is no mention of something like a werewolf’s bite or silver or anything stereotypically werewolfish at all that we would expect from such a big homage to classic werewolf movies and concepts (like The Wolf Man, which started all of the aforementioned tropes like silver and biting, etc – you can read all about that in laborious detail here!).
He could have turned into a polkadotted porcupine and it’d still be the same film.
So since this is billed as a monster movie, do we at least get monsters? Yes, we get two. We briefly get a snorting pig-squealing werewolf at the end of the movie, very briefly, more on that later – and we get Man Thing, the highlight of the entire film and everyone knows it.
Man Thing is the one with the interesting arc; he is the one who gets to do monster things, he is the one who gets to have the interesting and tense – if only very briefly, before it devolves into typical MCU silliness – monster scene where the audience might minimally entertain the notion that he will harm the main girl. Man Thing is even the one to save the girl’s life in the end of the movie. He also saves Jack.
I have to very seriously submit that this show should’ve been called Man Thing.
This movie fell hard into the same pitfall as basically every MCU thing since Civil War: they try to do too much. Even in the span of 50 minutes or however long this thing was, they decided to split the bill among no less than three main characters: Jack Russell, Elsa Bloodstone, and Man Thing.
The end result is that the most we ever see of Jack Russell is him being a bumbling wimp who is so silly and dorky and “likable” that he can’t even stick a bomb to a wall because he’s just too “endearing.”
Let me start at the beginning.
I reviewed this film in full in an impassioned rant on my Discord server. I’ll be taking a few notes from that rant as I go on. So, let me give you some context, dear reader, in case you haven’t seen this film. What follows is all but a summary of the movie with my reactions and review.
For starters, I am afraid I have to open with the blanket statement of that I don’t understand why direct to streaming things today look like trash. The production value on this movie was supposedly very high, as it should’ve been, given it’s Disney, and they take in over 80% of all revenue from Hollywood at this point. Unfortunately, that didn’t save this movie.
Not only was the movie obviously filmed on digital cameras with painfully after-camera black and white and film grain and an extremely silly film burn to try to make you think it’s authentic (it isn’t, at all), but the sets look like minigolf courses that should’ve been condemned in the 80s and the after-camera effects are beyond bad.
There is this one point where Elsa breaks this old tomb open and these spiders are meant to crawl out. The spiders were so out of place and unaffected by the surroundings or the lighting. It was one of the most terrible blatant effects shots I have ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies.
I won’t harp on about the cameras and the effects and how the frame-rate makes it look like a soap opera. I’ll really try not to. I just don’t understand why all streaming products are so cheap looking, to the point of making some of the old direct to video obscure forgotten little two-man passion films you can find on Amazon Prime look almost amazing. Anyway, let’s move on.
The premise of the film immediately starts out weird and lame. There’s a big ritual monster hunt where the winner gets this nebulous MacGuffin called the Blood Stone that is an artifact for hunting monsters. It controls them or something with some sort of special effects red and white wooshes of light. A bunch of monster hunter weirdos show up at this big manor because Daddy Monster Hunter died and is going to give his Blood Stone to the winner of this ceremonial hunt.
The hunters present include Jack Russell, our titular hero, the supposed Werewolf by Night.
Sidebar: You may not know this about Werewolf by Night, but the character’s full name is Jack Russell. Yes, he is named after the freaking dog breed. Haha, so funny. He’s a werewolf, so let’s name him after a dog. This is so much worse to me than the typical trope of naming the werewolf after a wolf or wolf-related things (like Remus Lupin, Fenrir Greyback, Miss Lupescu, etc etc), because wolves are not dogs. Instead of shirking this and using the name of the new Werewolf by Night character from Marvel comics, Jake Gomez, which better suits the character as portrayed here anyway, they reused Jack Russell (although I do not recall ever hearing anyone call him “Russell” in the show, just Jack; I may not have been paying enough attention after a point to notice, if they did). That makes me sad because Jack Russell is a terrible, stupid name and no one should ever use it again, especially if they are trying to get anyone to take werewolves seriously, as Giacchino was supposedly claiming to be doing here.
Due to my vitriol about his name, I shall refer to him as Jack Russell Terrier from this point forward.
Back on track: Jack Russell Terrier shows up in his makeup and a fancy tie. We receive almost no information about his character. We’d love to hear more about him, as we assume he is the protagonist – or we would like to see him, maybe, being mysterious and intriguing.
We don’t see either of these things.
Instead, Elsa Bloodstone arrives, who steals the show from Jack and receives character establishment and development immediately. We are introduced to her and her background and her relation to Daddy Monster Hunter. It is quickly established we are supposed to like her, as she sasses the creepy old crone at the head of this entire ordeal, orchestrating the monster hunt, who is one of the cheesiest and most overwrought villains I’ve seen in black and white or in color.
We proceed to follow Elsa around more than we follow Jack Russell Terrier, overall.
Everyone proceeds into the weird maze hunting grounds, full of various traps, under the threat of being hunted by some great monster that has the blood stone stuck in him and thus must be defeated before the prize can be claimed. No, that monster isn’t a werewolf or the werewolf. That monster is Man Thing.
Long story short, shenanigans happen, during which we discover Man Thing is a sympathetic character despite being a big scary monster and that Jack Russell Terrier is here to help him. Throughout these events, we see Elsa and various characters being badasses to assorted degrees – except Jack Russell Terrier, who is established as basically a bumbling and incompetent fool, making us wonder why on earth he is here and how on earth he expects to even help his monster friend.
Why is Jack Russell Terrier such an idiot who is capable of doing absolutely nothing, even following direct and simple instructions? Is this supposed to make him likable, I must wonder again? It really, really doesn’t work, and it’s terrible writing.
I want to emphasize yet again that Man Thing is clearly the highlight of this film. His interactions with Elsa were the driving force of the movie, which is what you might expect from a movie about a werewolf and a girl – if the werewolf was that driving force, not the Creature from the Black Lagoon turned into a moss monster Shambler from World of Warcraft.
The real protagonist of the film (screenshot from World of Warcraft)
Man Thing goes by the name Ted because lol humanizing should also be funny because this is Marvel. Elsa encounters him just as he effortlessly slays one of the other hunters; she says his name, he soften up at her. This would’ve been a great scene to have with the werewolf to establish that he is both terrifying but human and sympathetic. That might have even happened if this had been a werewolf film, but it is not.
I want to emphasize something else again: the werewolf gets NO buildup in this entire movie.
Not even a passing mention. Not even a vague indication, a hint, something creepy to make the audience tense and excited for when the werewolf finally shows up. I’m 100% all for building up to the werewolf instead of immediately throwing him out to the audience with no establishment or foreshadowing of his power, but this film did not do that at all. It threw him out very briefly at the end of the movie without any buildup, so the audience just sits around waiting and wondering why this movie is named after a werewolf.
Next, they help Man Thing escape by blowing up a wall. Jack Russell Terrier takes about four solid minutes to do this because he is, again, a butterfingers idiot who can’t follow simple instructions. They should’ve sent George of the Jungle or else Elsa should’ve done it herself. I guess it’s supposed to be funny, but it isn’t.
After Man Thing escapes and Elsa gets the stone off his back, kind of in that order, Jack Russell Terrier decides that he should walk up to the stone for no blessed reason at all.
Why would he do this? He knows the stone affects monsters. This was established. He knows he is a monster. Why on earth is he so stupid? I had such a hard time even liking a character of his absolutely unbelievable levels of stupidity, and some of my favorite characters are the endearing ones who are really trying their best but aren’t that great at things. If that’s what they were going for with this, it didn’t work, especially not here, where he screws himself and Elsa over as efficiently as possible just because he was so stupid he had to go touch the stone he knows is going to hurt him in some not fully established way, when he is supposedly experienced and good at this whole gig.
But no, he pokes it and is sent flying across the set by some unknown force and curls up in pain while all the monster hunters descend on them at once, magically not only discovering their location but reaching them barely seconds after the explosion, all through the power of diminishing runtime.
The old lady then drops a terrible line, cackling as she says, “I wonder what breed of evil you are!”
This angers me for several reasons. First of all, I have always found people wondering what kind of monster someone turns into to diminish the impact and power of all shapeshifting monsters as a whole. If your story has a character standing around waiting to see what kind of “werecreature” the guy writhing in pain and screaming – and probably begging for them to save themselves – is going to turn into, that lessens the overall impact to the point of losing all interest. No one here seems concerned at all that Jack Russell Terrier turned out to be a monster, they’re just amused by it and tittering wondering what kind of fancy creature he might turn into. There’s no buildup and certainly no specific werewolf foreshadowing or establishment of fear and power.
Then, suddenly, Elsa and Jack Russell Terrier are in a cage.
Now we hit what was, frankly, possibly the worst scene in the entire movie: the one that is actually supposed to establish the werewolf. Jack Russell Terrier talks nonspecifically about what ails him and Elsa briefly makes a weak effort to be disturbed by it. Jack Russell Terrier scratches his ear in a way that looks sped up by effects, and I guess that this is our hint that he’s the headlining werewolf that supposedly features in this movie during the last 18 minutes because lol dogs scritch.
There were a few times my soul almost flew from my wretched mortal form while watching this film. This was one of them.
Then Jack Russell Terrier suddenly descends upon Elsa and starts snoofling all over her, snuffling in a very cheesy, weird, stupid, and frankly very awkward and uncomfortable way, because lolo he’s a werewolf so gotta get sniffs! And he is saying, “I need to remember you” and saying to look at him.
They could have made that not terrible. Really, they could have. I can appreciate the sentiment. But they chose not to do that and to make it just a little bit painful to behold. They could have made it tense and emotional, made it a slow buildup of trust between the two characters. He approaches her reluctantly, tries to explain himself, and slowly begins to take in her scent; she asks him wtf is wrong with him, etc etc. It intimidates her but he isn’t trying to intimidate her. She can see how nervous and serious he is about this dire situation, about this dangerous thing he turns into…
But no, instead, he just launches himself over there at her and starts rubbing himself all over her and snuffling and it’s just so bad and poorly written, I can’t even emphasize it enough.
In comes the weird cult of monster hunters who are so over the top cultish that, at this point, it makes you want to turn the movie off and pretend you and everyone else in the world didn’t watch it, because you’ve lost all hope. But since the werewolf is finally about to appear, you continue giving it a chance.
Old Evil Lady waves her red lantern Blood Stone around and it shoots after-camera effects at Jack Russell Terrier, who writhes on the floor.
I will give props to what follows, so here is some brief positivity! We cut to Elsa watching in horror as Jack Russell Terrier snorts and squeals like a truffle-sniffing pig. His shadow on the wall depicts the transformation scene. This was the only good idea in and good thing about the entire movie (other than the idea to make the werewolf using practical effects/makeup, which I do appreciate).
And then we finally have the movie’s namesake werewolf, right here at the end of the film. Again, this could have been perfectly fine, because I love buildup, but there was no buildup to the werewolf, so it didn’t actually work out at all.
Why, though, does the werewolf sound like a squealing, snorting pig? It really bothered me.
At any rate, someone left their fog machine on suddenly in the cage because classic horror has the very good idea of not showing you too much of the monster too immediately and they wanted to emulate that somehow.
Again, I want to express appreciation for having werewolf makeup and using practical effects for the werewolf, instead of CGI. Big props for that. That was a bold move in today’s day and age and one that Giacchino didn’t have to make.
The Evil Old Lady steps closer to the cage and gets grabbed. Why did she do this? Who knows. Does this raise concerns that she was bitten? No, but if this was a werewolf movie, maybe that would’ve happened.
The previously established weird cadre of monster hunter characters who weren’t killed by Man Thing then come up and shock Jack Russell Terrier Monster (he wasn’t called a werewolf, so I won’t call him that either) until he releases Evil Woman. Then the very impressive named and unnamed monster hunters manage to lose Jack Russell Terrier Monster in a very evenly-lit room as Jack Russell Terrier Monster tears free of the cage, which is probably the only impressive thing he ever does, and climbs around the walls (and somehow they continue to never see him).
Why is the lighting in all modern movies so even and bright, by the way? It’s weird.
Anyway, Jack Russell Terrier Monster proceeds to cut down some cannon fodder. Elsa easily escapes the cage and starts battling and dispatching the actual named, established villain characters, while the werewolf is left with faceless nobodies to kill in an attempt to be impressive, which isn’t impressive at all.
Long story short, a not terribly exciting fight scene ultimately ends with Old Lady cornering Jack Russell Terrier Monster with the Blood Stone and overpowering him because he sucks. Elsa comes and seemingly kills the old lady, saving the helpless werewolf monster, who – I must say again – clearly sucks.
She then cautiously approaches Jack Russell Terrier, who jumps up and charges her, pinning her. We get a good look at his decent but not fantastic monster makeup (again, at least he wasn’t CGI) in what is supposed to be a brief emotional connection, which isn’t really well done, and then he runs away.
Yeah, he just leaves.
But then the Evil Old Lady stands up yet again and gets ready to kill Elsa. Man Thing appears and saves her.
Yes, Man Thing is the one who shows up and saves the girl and then follows his lost puppy Jack Russell Terrier after a gag exchange between him and Elsa, because lol Jack Russell Terrier is just such a handful! He’s so silly!
This also firmly establishes Man Thing as the cooler, more powerful character, the more mysterious character, and the character who has a better emotional connection to Elsa despite spending less time with her. It’s all very weird.
Switch to color, so we can see that Man Thing’s practical effects aren’t actually that good or impressive and that the classic films still did it better. Jack Russell Terrier, now back in human form, talks to him and they have a cuppa with lil smiley faces on them because lol this is the MCU so it must be funny.
Conclusion: I say again, why wasn’t this movie just named Man Thing?
The werewolf who was never called a werewolf or treated as a werewolf had absolutely no buildup as a monster, no interesting scenes, no establishment, no development, wasn’t even named – I could go on. How in any way was this even a werewolf movie? Why did they let the werewolf get sidelined so horribly in what was supposedly his own film?
I’ve heard people present the lame excuse that they didn’t have enough runtime. No, they did. This movie is barely not the same length as The Wolf Man (1941) that basically established all of modern pop culture werewolf media thereafter, including the comics that supposedly formed the basis for this movie. And the movie did Man Thing decent justice. It just focused on pretty much everything but the werewolf.
Watch at your own risk, I guess. You might even enjoy at least a moment or two of it.
But I didn’t.
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