As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands by bending genres, it is only a matter of time before they need to start experimenting with new storytelling methods to stay fresh and exciting. So while we’ve seen plenty of political thrillers, coming-of-age stories, and space operas, Michael Giacchino’s “Werewolf by Night” revisits the horror genre in a new way. Billed as a special presentation, the Marvel short serves as a love letter to the classic monster and monster hunter films of the 1930s through its costume design and animatronics yet still feels very modern because of the universe it is set in, its diverse casting, and visual effects.
“Werewolf by Night is set during the funeral of Ulysses’s Bloodstone, a world-renowned monster hunter who used a namesake relic to trap and kill monsters. Monster hunters from around the globe gather together on this fateful night to pay their respects and participate in the ultimate game. In this game, the winner who slays Man-Thing would receive the ancient weapon that could kill any monster and grant its owner untold powers.
As Verusa (played wonderfully by Harriet Sansom Harris), Ulysses’s widow, the leader of a secret group of monster hunters, explains the game’s rules, we are introduced to the two protagonists, Jack and Elsa.
Jack (Gael García Bernal) has a friendly disposition and isn’t one to boast about his career as a monster hunter like the others. Some of home have been doing this a lot longer than he has, and he has a higher body count because of it. Some are so storied that Jack can smell the blood on their hands. But, of course, this is not so much of a compliment as it is a clue about his character. He can’t even claim one of the trophies that hangs in the gallery, and makes a point to say that he’s only fought one of them to the death.
Then there’s Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter who was beleived to be the one to surpass her father. However, she only ended up being more like her mother and total disappointment to the Bloodstone family, according to Verusa, who suspects that Elsa is only after her birthright for its powers of super-strength, protection, and longevity. But, of course, Elsa wouldn’t reveal her intentions to a person she despises and is set on proving that she is up to the task even without her father’s training. Though an outcast, she is welcomed to join but will not receive special treatment just because she is the estranged daughter. As such, it is every hunter for themselves to find the monster that has been unleashed.
Both Beneral and Donelly are welcomed additions to the MCU. The two have a wonderful banter with each other that’s playful but also very revealing about their vulnerablities. And Giacchino does a great job of telling their story, while leaving just a little bit of mystery just in case there could be more left to tell in other special presentations. And there should be more.
Clocking in at a little over 52 minutes, “Werewolf by Night” has the luxury of distancing itself from whatever is happening in the grand scheme of the MCU. As such, Giacchino focused on telling the story of this one event that is happening on this one night where Jack and Elsa must work together to defeat a greater evil than the one they were tasked to slay. And the wonderful thing about this is that, despite the film’s 1930s and 1940’s aesthetics and black and white presentation, we don’t even know when the film’s time or setting. A lot of that is thrown off by Elsa’s costuming as well as a few futuristic guardsmen protecting the Bloodstone estate. In a way, it keeps everything focused on the characters without having the audience having to worry about how this would impact the future of the MCU.
So “Werewolf by Night” ends up being a fun exploration of the strange and unusual corner of the MCU and a fantastic twist on the supernatural genre. Its a refreshing piece of work that also acts as a gateway for the newer generation to watch some of those classic Universal monsters movies of the past, some of which inspired the horror that we see now and the superhero comic book characters that grace the screen today. Despite some of its short lulls, the “Werewolf by Night” experience is just a fun watch for the Marvel fan and those who enjoy an old-fashioned horror flick.
“Werewolf by Night” is Giacchino’s love letter to those classic Universal monster movies of the past. Marvel’s favorite composer now filmmaker takes us back to a time when practical effects and costume designs were the only way to bring werewolves to life. And he also throws in a few other nods like cigarette burns and zombie animatronics to remind us about how much fun it was to imagine a world full of classic monsters – some of whom may not be as monsterous as they appear to be. Plus the action sequences are hyper violent as the blood splatter and limbs lost are a sign of how far Marvel is willing to push the limits on their action sequences.