By Ben Konuch
“So many death dealers in one room…”
Phase 4 of the MCU has been full of bizarre hits and misses. It’s been a phase of experimenting, with unconventional and unique entries like “WandaVision” and “Eternals” attempting to break the mold of the Marvel formula. For all of its experimenting, Marvel has failed as many times as it succeeded. Some titles like “Moon Knight” and “Loki” have been received favorably, while entries like “Eternals” and “She-Hulk” have been criticized Of all the criticisms I’ve heard about Phase 4, the loudest has been that Marvel hasn’t allowed these experiments to go as far as they could creatively. This is very much not the case for the new Halloween special “Werewolf by Night”.
Clocking in at only 50 minutes, “Werewolf By Night” is artistic, violent, and knows exactly what it wants to be. Longtime composer Michael Giacchino’s directorial debut follows Jack, a monster-hunter, who is pulled into a tournament when the last patriarch of a famed monster-hunting clan dies. The winner of this tournament will receive the Bloodstone, a mystical and powerful artifact owned by the family and desired by all monster hunters. What ensues is a wild, tense, blood-soaked adventure full of twists, turns, and unexpected dismemberments.
Most of “Werewolf By Night” is filmed in black and white, and is stylized to invoke the feelings of classic 1930s and 40s horror films. Giacchino achieves this flawlessly with a style of filmography that captures the same type of framing and camera movements of that era while still retaining some semblance of a modern identity. This is a Marvel project like no other, and it feels like you’re watching a film that’s somehow out of time – not quite the past, but not quite the present.
The action scenes in particular are where “Werewolf By Night” feels the most modern in the best way possible. The action is intense and fast-paced, with high-quality fight choreography that actually carries its punches. Gone are the empty fight scenes of past projects that seem to have no impact or weight. The feature’s violence is often brutal at times, with the black and white filter keeping “Werewolf By Night” from getting a TV-MA rating, but the violence never got gratuitous or in your face. It felt like Marvel was allowing Giacchino to do what he needed to in these action scenes without restraint, and as a Marvel fan, that was much needed. The way the Werewolf fights in these scenes is also unique, using the strength and power typically associated with supernatural beings but also the agility and skill of a trained fighter. As a result, the Werewolf felt genuinely powerful and a delight to watch in action.
The sound design and music also have to be acknowledged. The way the music is scored in this feature feels like every pluck of a string or every blow of a horned instrument builds up the tension of the horror. The score is quiet when it needs to be and blaring at the best moments. The sound design for monsters and the intensity of the sound during fights is easily overlooked because of how seamlessly it fits with the visuals, but those scenes wouldn’t be the same without the sound design.
The characters of “Werewolf By Night” are the final piece of the puzzle of what makes it so unique. Jack, played by Gael García Bernal, is one of my new favorite MCU protagonists of recent memory. He’s a little bit awkward but has a kind heart, and the way he interacts with other characters (especially the fantastic portrayal of Man-Thing) is genuinely sweet and heartfelt. Elsa Bloodstone is another new character that I’m excited to see more of, and her unique blend of skill, deadliness and dry sarcasm set her apart from plenty of other MCU archetypes that we’ve seen already.
In conclusion, “Werewolf By Night” is incredibly special. While trying to avoid giving too many key plot spoilers, I can say that the tone and atmosphere of this feature are utterly unmatched. This is a new side of the MCU, one that enthralled and captivated me and had me begging for more runtime when it was over. I’m glad “Werewolf By Night” was only 50 minutes long though, because it’s been so long since I’ve genuinely felt that feeling of mouth-wide-open excitement for what’s coming next in a Marvel project. I can’t wait to see more of this side of the MCU and these characters, and if Michael Giacchino directs again, I’ll be there with my popcorn and that same gleeful smile I had for the entire last fifteen minutes of “Werewolf By Night”.
Without a doubt, I’m giving “Werewolf By Night” a 10/10
“Werewolf By Night” is now streaming on Disney+
Ben Konuch is a sophomore strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games, and failing horribly at wallyball with his friends.
Images courtesy of Marvel Studios.