You wonder if, on the set of last year's thriller Sicario, there was a moment when co-stars Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro had a chat about their previous outing, 2010's The Wolfman and asked 'Where did it all go wrong?'
From the start this project, one beloved of leading man Del Toro, was in trouble. Artistic differences led to a change of director just weeks prior to the start of filming, and when Joe Johnston gallantly stepped in to replace original director Mark Romanek, things didn't get any better, with re-writes, production delays, an escalating budget and an ever-changing release date. To make matters even worse, once it was finally screened, it got awful reviews and didn't make its budget back.
Ostensibly a remake of the Universal horror classic, the plot centres on the return to the family estate of estranged son Lawrence Talbot, who is called home to confront the vicious death of his brother. As misty woods, waning moons and suspicious locals provide the backdrop, Talbot must come to terms with his emotionally distant father and the beautiful woman who would have been his brother's wife, had he not been ripped apart. But family secrets run deep, and Talbot is about to go through some pretty radical changes...
So, half a decade on, is The Wolfman the disaster its meager 34% on Rotten Tomatoes suggests? No, it really isn't. This elegant looking, thoughtfully crafted film doesn't deserve its poor reputation. It's moodily atmospheric, beautifully designed, expertly photographed and has Oscar winning make-up effects. As a Gothic romance, it brings to mind the underrated 1979 version of Dracula, by John Badham, (both films beings superior to Coppola's camp OTT Bram Stoker's Dracula), and it's this element of the film which is key to its enjoyment.
Emily Blunt is as solidly good as ever in a role that sees her mourning one brother, whilst slowly falling for another, and Del Toro, whilst far from perfect for this role, broods and suffers with aplomb. His performance works best when he's in pain, and those transformations look bloody painful. On top of the leads, Hugo Weaving arrives 40 minutes in to spruce things up, and Anthony Hopkins is great, quite literally tearing up the scenery as the Daddy of all bad Dads. He injects a sadistic pleasure into his role, which is a joy to watch.
It's not flawless. It lacks momentum until towards the very end, characters going back and forth too much, and some obvious cutting to trim the running time brings about some odd scene progression. The accents are all over the place – is it just outside London or in Yorkshire somewhere? But those Rick Baker transformations are wonderful, the gore is great fun, there's a fantastic section in an asylum and the finale is genuinely thrilling. It isn't scary, but it does grip. And it's not only about the romance between the central characters. Johnston films the whole thing with a loving nod to the classic horrors of the past, with howling gales, foggy landscapes and the moonlight through the trees making this far less of the dog's dinner you might be expecting.
THE WOLFMAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOE JOHNSTON / SCREENPLAY: ANDREW KEVIN WALKER, DAVID SELF / STARRING: BENICIO DEL TORO, EMILY BLUNT, ANTHONY HOPKINS, HUGO WEAVING / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW