Werewolf by Night review: A fun Marvel departure
James R | On 10, Oct 2022
When is a Marvel movie not a Marvel movie? When it debuts on Disney+ as a one-off TV special. That’s the label given to Werewolf by Night, the 53-minute horror joint that arrives just in time for dark winter nights. DIrected by Michael Giacchino, it’s a rare outing for one of Marvel’s lesser-known figures – the brilliantly named Jack Russell, who has a nocturnal side that lives up to his shaggy name.
Gael Garcia Bernal sinks his teeth into the enigmatic figure, who is summoned to Bloodstone Manor along with a host of other monster hunsters after the death of the estate’s namesake Ulysses Bloodstone. They have one task: compete to capture the beast on the loose in the manor’s grounds. The winner becomes the new wielder of the powerful Bloodstone.
The presence of a magical gem is the nearest we get to Marvel convention in this darkly playful homage to 1930s movie matinees. The cast are certainly game for the genre hijinks, with Bernal bringing his rambling charm to the eponymous antihero, offsetting Russell’s sinister side with a loyal sense of friendship. He’s joined by Laura Donnelly as Elsa, the estranged daughter of Ulysses who has her rutheless streak, and a scene-stealing Harriet Sansom Harris as Ulysses’ calculating widow, Verussa, plus a fun turn from Kirk R Thatcher as a growling Scottish bounty hunter.
At the helm, Giacchino has fun playing with a monochrome palette, with DoP Zoë White steeping each set piece in shadows and silhouettes, while closing doors, winding corridors and labyrinthine gardens give plenty of room for a creature to conceal itself. It’s perhaps no surprise, though, that some of the highlights involve the soundtrack, from the camp, atmospheric accompaniment to the witty riff on Marvel’s opening fanfare.
The result is a pulpy B-side to Marvel’s small screen blockbusters, one that benefits from being free of burdensome MCU links. Clocking in under an hour, that means it lacks in some ways the pay-off and purpose of the comic giant’s other TV shows, but as a cheap and cheerful chiller, Werewolf by Night is a fun palette cleanser that brings fresh blood to the MCU. It’s definitely not a Marvel movie, and that’s mostly a good thing.