Werewolf By Night Review: Marvel Bucks Tradition With A Fun Monster Movie Homage [Fantastic Fest]

By now the Marvel formula is well established, so much so that it's becoming downright boring. You know exactly what you're going to get when you sit down for a Marvel title. So whenever the mega-studio bucks tradition and tries something new, it can seem refreshing. Enter "Werewolf By Night," a fun monster movie homage headed to Disney+ in time for Halloween. Directed with style by Michael Giacchino, "Werewolf By Night" leaves behind superheroes to show us a world of monsters — and monster hunters.

Bloodstone, a world-famous monster hunter and leader of a guild of fellow hunters, has just died. That means there's a new job opening to be monster hunter head honcho, and so a team of hunters has gathered at the Bloodstone compound — which looks like a brutalist sculpture garden — for a competition. Whoever is able to hunt and kill a captured monster on the compound will become the new leader. And oh yeah, the hunters are free to hunt each other, too. That seems counterproductive — if the monster hunters all kill each other, wouldn't there be no one left to hunt monsters? No matter.

Hosted by Bloodstone's widow (an absolutely delightful Harriet Sansom Harris, perhaps the best part of the whole special), the competition has brought together several characters, including two unlikely additions. One is Jack (Gael García Bernal), who seems way too nice and polite when compared to the other hunters. And then there's Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone, Bloodstone's estranged daughter who hates her family tradition.

The hunt is on.

Where wolf?

So what beastie is being hunted? Is it the titular werewolf (by night)? Or something else? I won't tell you, since the special plays it as a mystery. But when the werewolf (by night) does show up, I was ecstatic to see it was an actor wearing makeup! So many modern werewolves (by night) are CGI, and they always look awful. And awful CGI is kind of Marvel's MO at this point, so that's what I was expecting. Kudos, Marvel. You did it. You brought back practical werewolves. Take a bow. 

Giacchino hopes to invoke classic Universal monster movies, complete with black and white cinematography. The special is too modern-looking for that, but there are some fun tricks, like fake cigarette burns to signify reel changes. And there's plenty of style, too, with the black and white cinematography lending the entire endeavor a moody, atmospheric vibe. There's one particular scene where the werewolf (by night) is illuminated by bursts of light, and it looks wonderful.

That's not to say there aren't some stumbles — there is a burst of Marvel CGI light beam buffoonery that I can not sanction, and some of the quipping is a bit much. But I have to admit that "Werewolf By Night" won me over in the end. It's a quick, violent, funny monster movie homage, and it's perfect for Halloween. There's an opening moment involving an anamatronic corpse that's just delightfully twisted. I also enjoyed Bernal's affable performance, standing out in a sea of posturing tough guy characters. And there's a twist midway through the special that will have you smiling. If Marvel wants to keep bucking tradition and turning out different things like this, I'd be thrilled. More werewolves (by night), please.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

"Werewolf By Night" is streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting October 7.