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Gael García Bernal plays Jack Russell in "Werewolf by Night." Photo courtesy of IMDb.

REVIEW: ‘Werewolf by Night’ makes for decent Howl-ween fare

With this year’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Marvel proved they weren’t too afraid to conjure up a film that leans heavily into the horror genre. Now, with their first special presentation, “Werewolf by Night,” Marvel is doubling down on the creepier side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — so long as it is still identifiably Marvel.

The TV special stars Gael García Bernal as the titular Werewolf by Night (aka Jack Russell), one member of a group of monster hunters called together to decide who will wield the mythical Bloodstone following the death of its previous owner, Ulysses Bloodstone. While still connected to the larger MCU, the special being marketed as a “special presentation” allows “Werewolf” to dive head first into the more magical, mystical side of the MCU and flex a slight amount of creative thought.

The special takes a series of creative liberties that wouldn’t fly in a regular MCU project: the whole thing is in black and white with added noise and a grain filter that, in tandem with the very classic horror-flick score, really hits home the old-school creature feature feel. But the special is clearly shot on digital cameras with contemporary lenses, giving the whole thing a jarring contrast between the old and the new.

This contrast is both good and bad. On one hand, I don’t get why they didn’t just actually use film cameras, but on the other hand, there are a lot of varying elements within the film itself that also add to this strange contrast: the sci-fi-looking guards with their electric prods and bullet proof vests seem out of place in the medieval-style setting. It seems like the special’s way of demonstrating that we’re still in the present-day, saving us from some forced line serving the same purpose — it’s commendable, but I don’t think it fully works.

This highlights my main issue with the film. As with many other MCU projects that get close to being something genuinely different (“Wandavision,” “Multiverse of Madness,” and “Eternals”), it’s still bogged down by a distinct lack of creativity in many areas. There seems to be no other reason to have not used film cameras to shoot the special other than some producer (cough cough, Kevin Feige) thinking audiences would be turned off by something that didn’t retain some semblance of being made in the 21st century.

That being said, director-composer Michael Giacchino does a decent job of giving us a good amount of fun throwback elements without leaning too heavily in that direction as to upset the powers that be. The score for the special is phenomenal: it’s nostalgic, it’s over the top and it’s refreshing to watch a Marvel project with music that isn’t just either a bland superhero theme or a throwback pop tune.

García Bernal is another great element, clearly having a very fun time with a very fun character and a very fun concept. In “Werewolf,” he demonstrates the leading-man potential that those following his career closely have always known he’s had — hopefully this special helps him finally break into the Hollywood limelight.

One of my larger worries for the special was how they’d approach the titular werewolf. Luckily, instead of some questionable CGI work, we’re gifted with some superb practical effects. Giacchino, cinematographer Zoë White and the entire makeup department did careful work to make Bernal’s werewolf look real enough for us to believe but still leave room for some classically poor wire work and true monster movie cheese.

This, though, is really only in the last 20 minutes of the special. It’s a long build up for such a short project to actually get to the werewolf. While it certainly pays off, it makes the first two thirds of the special feel far more bland and boring by comparison. You might be better off skipping to a little over the halfway mark than watching from the beginning; you’ll save yourself some relatively dull setup and, considering that the plot is anything but inventive, it probably won’t take you long to catch on.

It’s the tragedy that has befallen so many other Marvel projects before: true creative potential squandered by a misplaced need to make things feel cohesive and current. It’s a shame because “Werewolf by Night” could have been a devilish delight. Ultimately, though, it’s got a lot less bite than its conceptual bark might have you believe.

John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @JScott050901

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