A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"The Wolfman" avoids what must have been the temptation to update its famous story. It plants itself securely in period, with a great-looking production set in 1891. Gothic horror stories seem more digestible when set in once-great British country houses and peopled with gloomy introverts, especially when the countryside involves foggy moors and a craggy waterfall. This is, after all, a story set before the advent of modern psychology, back when a man's fate could be sealed by ancestral depravity.
The film's opening and closing shots are of the full moon, which is correct. An early exterior shows Chatsworth in Derbyshire, perhaps the grandest of all English country houses. Inside it is derelict and unkempt, inhabited by the sinister old Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and his faithful manservant Singh. Gas was well known as a means of illumination in 1891, and indeed electric lights were not uncommon, but Sir John makes do with flickering candles carried from room to room, the better to cast wicked shadows.
Sir John's son Ben and his fiancee Gwen (Emily Blunt) were living there until recently, when Ben was savagely killed. Gwen writes to Ben's long-estranged brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro), an American actor who is appearing in London in "Hamlet" and indeed is holding poor Yorick's skull when we first see him. Lawrence arrives in a foggy, chilly dusk of course, and his voice echoes in the vast lonely mansion before his father emerges from the shadows.
I love stuff like this. The gloomier and more ominous the better. (There is a silent classic named "The Fall of the House of Usher" that actually has dead leaves scuttling across a mansion's floor.) Lawrence views his brother's body, which seems to have made a good meal. Meanwhile, down at the obligatory local pub, the conversations of the locals center on a strange beast marauding in the district. In the 19th century, a pub served as the evening news.