Skip to main content

Werewolf By Night review: magnificent monster mayhem

There was a period in the 1960s when Marvel Comics ruled the world of monsters. Series like Tales to Astonish and Journey Into Mystery introduced readers to one terrifying — and typically, giant-sized — creature after another, years before Marvel turned its full attention to superhero stories.

The ubiquitous success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe these days seems poised to transform Marvel’s monster era into a relic of simpler (and perhaps, weirder) times, but Disney’s Werewolf By Night suggests the studio isn’t ready to cast it aside just yet.

Directed by Oscar-winning composer and filmmaker Michael Giacchino from a script penned by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, Werewolf By Night is a throwback to both Marvel’s past and the history of monster cinema, and offers an adventure unlike anything in the MCU so far.

A pair of eyes stare out at the camera in a scene from Werewolf By Night.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Less is more

Presented as a classic, black-and-white horror film a la the Universal Pictures monster classics, Werewolf By Night casts Gael García Bernal as a monster hunter and secret werewolf Jack Russell (Marvel was never known for subtlety). After Russell is summoned to the estate of recently deceased, prolific hunter Ulysses Bloodstone, he soon finds himself pitted against a group of hunters vying for a powerful artifact from Bloodstone’s collection.

As one might expect, Werewolf By Night takes some narrative twists and turns along the way that explore the relationship between monsters and those who hunt them (particularly once Russell’s secret is revealed). And despite some modern, Marvel-esque humor peppering the film, it does an impressive job of channeling the old-school look and feel of the Universal Pictures horror classics that inspired it.

Giacchino’s evocative score and use of the black-and-white palette and lighting are put to great effect, for example, with strobe-like flashes, creative use of shadows, and powerful, orchestral blasts marking shocking moments in the story. All of these elements elevate Werewolf By Night into a cinematic symphony that pays homage to the very same films that inspired many of the creators of Marvel’s early monster stories.

Gael Garcia Bernal stares intently in a black and white scene from Werewolf By Night.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Bloody good

While the film itself is packed with plenty of familiar pieces and echoes of the past, Werewolf By Night also breaks some new ground for Disney and the MCU.

The film is a surprisingly gory tale, with severed hands and impaled heads popping up with alarming frequency for a Disney-branded project. The film’s limited color palette serves to dull the gore a bit, but it feels like a dash of color is all Werewolf By Night might need to be regarded as the bloodiest MCU film to date — although it faces some competition there from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

More so than with Doctor Strange, however, the blood and gore of Werewolf By Night feels right in line with the overall tone of the film. It’s an old-school creature feature at heart, and the way the bloody moments are filmed (and the frequency with which they occur) feels more akin to classic cinema than over-the-top camp. In most cases, they’re moments that shouldn’t be shocking to modern movie audiences but are made so through Giacchino’s camera and score.

Laura Donnelly looks into the camera in a scene from Werewolf By Night.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Whoever knows fear…

García Bernal’s talents are put to good use as Russell, the film’s titular wolfman, and he adds plenty of humor and heart to the character to accompany the horror unfolding around him. Laura Donnelly also delivers a good performance as Elsa Bloodstone, Ulysses’ estranged daughter, making her debut in the MCU.

The film surrounds Bernal’s Russell with a cast of interesting hunters to contend with, too. That group of characters — which includes Eugenie Bondurant as an intimidating hunter whose choice of an all-white, feathered uniform is brilliant in every sense of the word — collectively tease a much larger, intriguing universe of monsters and hunters that Marvel will hopefully explore further at some point.

By far the film’s most memorable supporting character, though, is lesser-known Marvel monster Man-Thing, who makes his return to live-action features after essentially serving as a supporting character in his terrible, self-titled 2005 film. The film nicely positions swamp monster Man-Thing as another Groot- or Korg-type figure — an oversized character whose intimidating exterior appearance conceals a kind, relatable personality. Introducing Man-Thing is a big swing for Marvel to take, but the studio’s record so far with these sorts of characters is a good one.

A mummified character reclins in a coffin in a scene from Werewolf By Night.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Big risk, big reward

Werewolf By Night might not fit cleanly into the mold of Marvel’s interconnected universe right now, but it’s exactly the sort of bold, unique project that pushes boundaries and nurtures the MCU’s growth and evolution. Those expecting a standard superhero story with some monster flavor aren’t going to get that in Werewolf By Night, but what they will receive is an entertaining callback to Hollywood’s horror history wrapped around some familiar Marvel touchstones.

If Disney truly wants to embrace the darker corners of its Marvel Comics universe, Werewolf By Night is a great first step in that direction. Here’s hoping the studio’s journey into mystery (or perhaps, a tale to astonish) continues, and the adventures of Marvel’s on-screen monsters become as popular as their comics counterparts.

Marvel’s Werewolf By Night premieres October 7 on the Disney+ streaming service.

Werewolf by Night (2022)

Werewolf by Night
Genre Fantasy, Horror, TV Movie
Stars Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris
Directed by Michael Giacchino

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
10 outrageous facts about Nicolas Cage’s canceled Superman movie, Superman Lives
Nicolas Cage dressed as Superman in a headshot in "The Death of 'Superman Lives:' What Happened?"

With the recent leak about Nicolas Cage appearing as Superman in DC's The Flash, some people might be left scratching their heads over this bizarre cameo. Though Cage has never played the Man of Steel in live-action, he almost did back in the '90s when he signed up to star in the canceled film Superman Lives.

Even by comic book movie standards, the story and the troubled production of this film are pretty bizarre, but many fans still wonder what could've been. Since Cage is finally fulfilling his dream of physically playing the Blue Boy Scout, it seems like the perfect time to go over what has been revealed over the years about his axed superhero film.
Tim Burton was going to direct

Read more
Where to watch Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever promo art.

Superhero movies were never the same after 2018. That's due to the phenomenal critical and commercial success of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther. No spandex movie before it had quite married the fantastical with social commentary like that movie. And no big-budget comic book movie ever featured a cast with predominantly Black actors as its heroes and villains (sorry, Steel and The Meteor Man).

It was always going to be hard for a sequel to measure up, but things got even more complicated, and tragic, with star Chadwick Boseman's passing in 2020. The beauty of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is that it's not just a straightforward sequel or a routine action picture. It's a moving testament to Boseman's impact, and what Black Panther meant to the greater culture. The hit movie is set to debut on streaming services, but when and where can one watch it?
Where is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever streaming?

Read more
5 upcoming comic book movies you have to see in 2023
Star-Lord leads the Guardians of the Galaxy as they walk out of a spaceship in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Ever since the first comic book movie was released, people have been complaining of comic book movie fatigue. There are too many of them in the marketplace, they argue, and no one cares anymore. Yet, 2022 saw five of the top 10 highest-grossing movies being based on comic books, suggesting the genre still has plenty of life left in it.

This year is no different, as there are over a dozen comic book movies and shows set to hit screens big and small. These five films stand out from the crowd for both their potential to be great (The Flash) and their promise to honor what has come before them (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3).
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February 17)
Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania | New Trailer

Read more