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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf review: A brutal, beautiful prequel

Fans of The Witcher, Netflix’s dark adaptation of the series of fantasy novels of the same name, still have a few months to go before the hit series returns, but the streaming service is hoping to make the wait more tolerable with the release of The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, an animated spinoff film set in the show’s universe.

Produced by The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Nightmare of the Wolf offers up a prequel tale set years before the events of The Witcher series. The film follows Vesemir, a monster-hunting Witcher who will become series protagonist Geralt’s mentor in later years, as he investigates a deadly creature terrorizing a city — only to make a discovery that changes the course of both his life and those of all Witchers.

The Originals series writer Beau DeMayo, who previously penned one of the best episodes of The Witcher to date, season 1’s Betrayer Moon, provided the script for Nightmare of the Wolf, which manages to offer both a satisfying stand-alone adventure and one that reveals quite a bit more about the world the series inhabits.

Tetra and Vesemir in a scene from The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

Looking good

It’s no surprise that The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf delivers a beautiful visual experience.

The resume of Studio Mir, the South Korean animation studio that worked on Nightmare of the Wolf, features some of the best animated projects to arrive on the small screen in recent years, from the critically acclaimed The Legend of Korra and Voltron: Legendary Defender to the criminally underappreciated Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. With Nightmare of the Wolf, the studio pivots from all-ages adventures to a more adult-themed series while retaining its knack for blending crisp lines and vivid colors with a superb grasp of both action and emotion in the characters they bring to the screen.

Nightmare of the Wolf is as rewarding to watch in its quieter, more dialogue-driven moments as it is in its most frantic, fast-paced sequences, and Studio Mir rewards Netflix’s continued collaboration with another visually stunning project that serves both the story and the diversity of the streamer’s library well.

Vesemir in the tub in a scene from The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

Sounding good, too

The cast of actors lending their voices to The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf offers a nice variety of familiar faces (if not names) and veteran voice actors, with The Divergent Series franchise actor Theo James portraying the adult Vesemir. James delivers Vesemir’s dialogue with the right mix of roguish charm and well-earned confidence, and the blending of his line delivery and the character’s on-screen persona works well for the character.

Much of the same can be said of Sherlock actress Lara Pulver and Outlander actor Graham McTavish, who voice the sorceress Tetra and the veteran Witcher Deglan, respectively. Both characters keep you guessing when it comes to their true loyalties, and the actors voicing them do a nice job of maintaining that uncertainty in their delivery of the characters’ lines.

Lady Zerbst and Tetra in a scene from The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

Big world, small story

Although the visuals and voice acting in Nightmare of the Wolf deserve plenty of praise, it’s the story that brings it all together — and also offers the most compelling reason to watch the film.

Telling a satisfying, self-contained story while also adding depth to a world as rich as that of The Witcher is no easy task, and the Nightmare of the Wolf creative team balances those needs well. Newcomers shouldn’t have any trouble jumping right into the world of The Witcher via Nightmare of the Wolf, while those familiar with the series — or the books they’re based on, by novelist Andrzej Sapkowski — will likely enjoy the extra layers the film adds to the existing franchise saga.

When season 2 of The Witcher finally premieres in December 2021, it will be nearly two years since the series made its debut on Netflix. Fortunately, even without actor Henry Cavill’s gruff monster hunter Geralt, Nightmare of the Wolf offers plenty of rewarding elements and a great reminder of why The Witcher is such a fascinating world to explore, no matter what form that exploration takes.

Animated feature The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is available now on Netflix.

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