Werewolf by Night is an innovative Marvel entry, just in time for spooky season. For those tired of the Marvel formula, this is a welcome change. For those committed to the MCU in its purest form, this will definitely require an adjustment of expectations. As vampires, werewolves, and all manner of monsters are making a pop culture comeback, this may be a movie to add to the seasonal watch rotation.
If Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was meant to be the first horror entry in the MCU, Werewolf by Night delivers. A complaint that has been common among MCU fans is that stories are told fairly conservatively. So many entries are also geared toward younger audiences, prioritizing simple morals and pretty Colors over compelling storytelling. The solution to Marvel’s issues isn’t to implement DCEU-style doom and gloom. Werewolf by Night comes as close as anything to trying to strike this balance.
Marvel’s take on werewolf lore is an interesting one. It’s refreshing that the first consideration isn’t how this can be tied into the wider Universe. If you love a good family feud, combined with a Hunger Games-style battle for survival, this may be the Marvel entry for you. The lore of the Bloodstone works incredibly well as a device to bring the story to life. There are so many more possibilities to explore with this fairly simple bit of storytelling. Its simplicity lends itself well to the overall story, and doesn’t try to outsmart the audience by adding over-convoluted universe rules.
Gael García Bernal and Laura Donnelly are standouts here, and are brilliant stars to lead this unique project. They play off of one another in such an enthralling way. The push-pull dynamic only makes their team-up that much more exciting to watch. Rather than a comedic, slapstick duo, this is a partnership worth taking seriously. It’s refreshing to see a male-female duo that isn’t immediately set up as a potential romance. Even so, the love and respect that they have for each other is clear enough.
Werewolf by Night is also a tribute to classic entries in the noir genre. In many ways, it plays like an episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s a self-contained story, centred around a group of people who get put in progressively more horrific situations. There is just enough existential dread to raise the story to another level. The filmmakers take a formula that works and give it new life. The slow-building tension that is the hallmark of so many of these classic entries is present throughout.
The horror elements don’t rely on jump scares or excessive amounts of gore. Instead, there’s an intentional exploration of the mother-wound, and the horror of going through life without a supportive parent in your corner. Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) is such a horrifying villain, because she’s all too relatable. Her casual cruelty is bone-chilling. Anyone who’s had a parent so viscerally oppose you, and make you feel as though you’re worth nothing, will see their experience reflected here.
In many ways, Werewolf by Night doesn’t deserve to be demeaned by classifying it as a Marvel project. It is a shame that Marvel thought that this only deserved to be classified as a “special presentation”. Projects like this make other Marvel entries such as this make others more tiresome and frustrating to watch. If Marvel is truly capable of this kind of innovative storytelling, they are holding out on fans. Werewolf by Night deserves to be recognized for the achievement that it is.
Werewolf by Night is available to stream on Disney+.