Werewolf By Night Review: The Halloween Special Will Make You Ravenous For More Marvel Horror
The Werewolf by Night special is a perfect addition to the Halloween season, and the best thing Marvel has done in the past couple of years.
Werewolf by Night Review Score:
Werewolf by Night is the best on-screen project Marvel has delivered since last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. Along with giving us a near-perfect blend of horror, action, and MCU-brand comedy; the special acts as wonderful tribute to black and white films like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man and not just as a gag. It makes it work to the point that by the end you’ll be convinced there’s no other way the special could’ve been made.
The first hero we meet is the enigmatic Jack (Gael García Bernal, Station Eleven) as he arrives at a mansion filled with dark trophies and guests brimming with quiet hostility. We soon learn Jack is one of a small group of elite monster hunters who have been summoned to commemorate the death of Ulysses Bloodstone, as well as to compete for the mystic stone that granted the fallen hunter his powers. The hunters are tasked with hunting a beast let loose on the Bloodstone property, with the slayer of the monster promised the stone.
Arriving dead last, and without invitation, is the deceased champion’s disgraced daughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly, The Nevers). Her vengeful stepmother Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris, Licorice Pizza) grudgingly lets her compete. After the hunt begins on the Bloodstone’s labyrinthine grounds, Jack and Elsa form an uneasy alliance, though of course Jack–the subject of Werewolf by Night–isn’t there for the reason everyone else is.
Their alliance is necessarily uneasy because all of the hunters are encouraged to hunt not only the beast, but each other. It’s during these conflicts that we see that Werewolf by Night pushes the violence farther than any Marvel project so far. Sure, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) took over the corpse of his own variant and fought as a rotting zombie, but when you see Elsa Bloodstone cut another hunter’s throat and clamp her hand over her enemy’s mouth–as he’s still twitching–to keep him quiet as another hunter stalks nearby, you will know this is a different kind of Marvel.
Bernal and Donnelly are perfectly cast in Werewolf by Night; though, fair warning, if your eyes are stupid like mine, when Donnelly first shows up it will take you a minute to realize she isn’t Krysten Ritter (and as far as I know, Jessica Jones isn’t a monster hunter). But more than anyone, Harris is an absolute joy to behold as Elsa’s wicked stepmother. She steals every scene she’s in and you will thank her for it.
The realization of Jack Russell’s “other guy” is shocking in a way that I don’t want to talk too much about because you should experience it for yourself. The way they chose to go is surprising, as is the fact that it works so beautifully. Suffice to say, if you are expecting a massive, Hulk-like CGI monster in Werewolf by Night… well, actually there is one of those, but it ain’t the werewolf.
If Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness left you understandably convinced there was no way Marvel could get horror right, Werewolf by Night will cure you of your misconceptions within the first ten minutes. Michael Giacchino–who works primarily as a composer on TV and film projects ranging from Up to episodes of Lost–only has two other director credits and they’re both for shorts; 2018’s Monster Challenge and an entry in Star Trek: Short Treks. But if you’re going to call him a Newb, you make sure to use a big N, because by the end of the special you’re going to be wanting him on more Marvel projects.
Speaking of “more,” that really is the worst thing about Werewolf by Night–when it’s over you will want so much more and, thankfully, the potential is there. Between Elsa Bloodstone, the titular man-monster, and a surprising third party I don’t want to spoil; at least three potential new Marvel Comics franchises are introduced in the special, along with plenty of others that are hinted at. If the special performs as well as it deserves to, we should expect Kevin Feige to use Disney+ to introduce more and more characters this way.