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Werewolf by Night review: MCU Horror TV Special is nothing special -Newzflash

Werewolf at night — out Friday on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a new dimension. At least on paper. It is the first television special produced by Marvel Studios. (TV special is basically a fancy term for an hour-long movie.) The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special — coming in December, also to Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — was supposed to be the first, but Werewolf at night appeared out of nowhere last month at Disney’s D23 Expo 2022. More importantly, Werewolf at night is also the first full-on MCU horror film, although we kind of went there with the Sam Raimi-directed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen, earlier this year.

Interestingly enough, Werewolf at night also comes from an unexpected source. It’s directed by Michael Giacchino, the guy otherwise known for composing unmistakable background scores for several Marvel movies, including the Cumberbatch-led Doctor StrangeThor: Love and Thunder with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy. To is the guy doing a horror feature about monster hunters now? Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige was also surprised by Giacchino’s choice of the character. But as Feige heard more, he grew more enthusiastic—and suggested Giacchino incorporate the swamp creature Man-Thing.

Giacchino said he was inspired by American horror films of the 1930s and 40s. To his credit, Werewolf at night mimics the style of those decades well. First, the Marvel TV special is presented entirely in black and white – this is not a first for the MCU, as we had an episode or two of WandaVision to do so – with “cigarette burns” appearing in places to complete see. However, what evokes modernity is the depth of field and the use of distortion lenses. Giacchino, who is also naturally the composer here, even brings in songs from the late 30s, with one by Vera Lynn and another from The Wizard of Oz.

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What works best for Werewolf at night is that it all feels tangible. Unlike the widespread overuse of CGI and virtual backdrops in the MCU, the first Marvel TV special relies heavily on practical effects, be it with the creatures, the action or the setting. Werewolf at night does well in balancing violence and humor — the screenplay comes from Heather Quinn (Hawkeye) and Peter Cameron (WandaVision) – and even packs a little heart. Within all the chasing and running around, it finds moments of calm with the main characters as they delve into family and generational trauma.

But while it might be the first true MCU horror tale, I don’t think it’s effective in that regard. Of course, there are moments when blood flows down your screen – Werewolf at night get away with a less punitive rating because the blood isn’t red thanks to it being all in black and white – but I don’t recall any real scares. An even bigger problem is that it is too short. Wrapping after 48 minutes – the length of a Loki episode or so – Werewolf at night does not have enough time to develop his characters. It’s over before it really begins.

An animated lore dump at the start Werewolf at night tells us that the famous monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone (voiced by Richard Dixon) has died, leaving behind the Bloodstone relic, a powerful stone that is very useful to monster hunters. At Ulysses’ wish, a “ceremonial hunt” has been arranged. Whoever slays the beast and seizes the Bloodstone relic will be appointed “the new leader of their fight against monsters,” as Ulysses’ widow Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) says early in Werewolf at night to the assembled group of monster hunters.

Said group includes a bunch of faces that really don’t matter. Except for Ulysses’ estranged daughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), who left her father’s side years ago – Verussa calls her a “disappointment” while Elsa makes a face when Verussa calls herself Ulysses’ lover. And our protagonist, Jack Russell/ Werewolf by Night (Gael García Bernal). Werewolf at night tries to make a meal out of its lead’s alter ego, but it only works if you haven’t seen the poster, the trailer, or literally any marketing. (And now, this review. Sorry?)

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Harriet Sansom Harris as Verussa in Werewolf at night
Image credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Mild spoilers ahead Werewolf at night.

The first half of the first Marvel TV special plays out as part setup and part Hunger Games, with the second half devoted to exploring Jack’s other side. Everyone, including the monster, is fair game. And considering the monster hunters have 200 kills between them, they pull no punches.

Thanks to the extended content assessment, Werewolf at night is capable of displaying a lot of brutal killing. The best are reserved for a climactic sequence in the third act, where Giacchino really taps into the menacing and unforgiving side of his title character. But the rest of it can be a little tough – for example, after being set up for several minutes, the whole monster hunt is solved very quickly and easily.

Most of that is due in part to the succinct time frame allotted Werewolf at night. While it’s commendable that Marvel Studios is open to experimentation, I’m not sure it’s committing to the right projects. The last was the shorts series I Am Groot and there was also a bit of value. But while Vin Diesel’s talking tree has a big enough place in the ever-growing MCU, it’s completely unclear how Werewolf at night connects to some of it. For now, it feels like Jack and Co. exist in a parallel world.

Even Marvel Studios seems noncommittal about the entire company. Co-executive producer Brian Gay refused to give a direct answer when asked about the future of Werewolf by Night. On the other hand, Gay hinted that he wants more monsters to appear in future projects – but will it happen with mainline MCU films and series, or on the side like this one?

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Ulysses Bloodstone i Werewolf at night
Image credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Werewolf at night begins by revealing a new “Marvel Studios Special Presentation” animated intro before the usual Marvel Studios sequence. The fact that they made an effort to make one could indicate that we can expect more of them in the future.

The problem is that Marvel has so many (weird) characters now — many of them introduced in The Multiverse Saga, which began after Endgame — that you wonder how many will be forgotten by the time we get to the next Avengers movies. Werewolf by Night seems like an excellent candidate.

Werewolf at night will be published on Friday 7 October at 12:00 PM PT/12:30 PM IST on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar where available.

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