30th Mar2015

‘Wolves’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Lucas Till, Stephen McHattie, John Pyper-Ferguson, Merritt Patterson, Jason Momoa, Janet-Laine Green, Melanie Scrofano, Adam Butcher, Philip Maurice Hayes, Miriam McDonald | Written and Directed by David Hayter

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I, like many horror fans, know that the werewolf movie is the hardest of all the horror sub-genres to get right. For every American Werewolf in London, there’s an American Werewolf in Paris… But once in a while a movie comes along that successfully captures what makes the genre great. Wolves is one such movie.

Written and directed by David Hayter, who has penned such blockbuster films as X-Men and its sequel; and the film adaptation of Watchmen, Wolves tells the story of Cayden Richards. Your typical all-American jock, Cayden goes on the run following a vicious football incident and the murder of his parents – possibly at Cayden’s hands. You see Cayden is changing and not in your typical high-school teenager way. No, Cayden is becoming a werewolf! On the run, he meets a man named Wild Joe in a bar in the middle of nowhere, who reveals to him his own wolf-like tendencies and sets Cayden on a path to the town of Lupine Ridge – to hunt down the truth about just what is happening to him…

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much from Wolves, even given the pedigree of its writer/director. So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a superb entry into the genre, easily on a par with its Canadian werewolf sibling, Ginger Snaps. Where that film linked developing female sexuality with lycanthropy, Wolves tells the same story from a male perspective – complete with copious amounts of testosterone, male posturing and, yet again, burgeoning sexuality.

Where Wolves succeeds over other films of this ilk, is that it successfully builds its own grander story, a mythos that is completely intertwined with the plot of the film which works to enhance and enrich the story of Cayden Richards. The idea of a group of werewolf clans settling in America, immigrants to the United States if you will, and establishing their own traditions, no matter how twisted, is completely fascinating. This fascination, this total belief in the story being told is, for the most part, down to the fantastic performance of Stephen McHattie, who weaves the story of the old-guard in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn into not only the story of Lupine Ridge but into Cayden’s story: the family he never knew, the bloodline he is a part of.

The world-building is so strong, yet so subtle, that come the films conclusion – as Cayden leaves town with a “family tree” of the werewolf clans of old – that you can’t help but feel you want, nay need, to see more of what feels like a much grander, more epic, overall story. It’s almost as if writer/director David Hayter has learnt from the comic books he has adapted to the screen, how to tell a big story in a small space – in comics it’s one book, in this case it’s a 90 minute movie.

Of course it helps that Hayter has also put together a compelling cast. I’ve already discussed how great Stephen McHattie is, but credit should also go to Lucas Till (X-Men‘s Havok), who manages to convey a wealth of emotion, many of it dark and downbeat, without ever crossing into the types of moping “emo” performances we typically see in the genre. Then there’s Jason Momoa, a man who – if I’m honest – I wrote off as nothing more than a TV actor after his less than stellar performance in movies such as Conan and Bullet in the Head. Here Momoa manages to run the gamut with his role – from vicious werewolf leader, to heartbroken lover, to vengeful monster, to self-sacrificing father. It’s a superb role and superb performance. If the folks behind the Justice League movie can get even half the performance displayed here by Momoa in his role as Aquaman, I’m sure it will be a crowd-pleaser.

A werewolf movie that should, if all’s fair, be held in the same lofty regards as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Ginger Snaps, Wolves is out now on DVD from Altitude Film Distribution.

***** 5/5

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