“Even a man who is pure in heart”, the remake begins, instantly impressing the weight of the original on this new version of the lycanthropic tale. In the current climate of the modern gothic in films such as Twilight and television series’ like True Blood, it is refreshing to see a Victorian-set gothic horror. Comparisons will be made to the recent Sherlock Holmes, of course, although The Wolfman feels distinctly unmodern.
Johnston’s film presents a highly stylised vision of late nineteenth-century Britain; all brooding mansions and London fogs. Much of the exterior London footage in CGI, however this does not detract from the fantastic realm that the audience is plunged into. The effect is heightened by the carefully controlled palette, contrasting the monochrome of the Talbot residence with the colour of the gypsies.
The story is inevitably predictable. There are no clever twists or shocks to surprise viewers. The film, however, does function as a gothic horror (as opposed to just gothic a la Bram Stoker’s Dracula), providing a handful of cheap frights that will easily unnerve jittery audience members. The transformation sequences fall on the side of grotesque rather than chilling, paying debt to the 1941 original.
Although the dialogue is at times grating in its attempt at the grandiose, Del Toro’s portrayal of Talbot is successful insomuch as it provokes sympathy. As the tragic gothic protagonist, Talbot struggles with the most seminal of the genre’s preoccupations: duality. The Wolfman invokes that traditional Victorian depiction of reservedness, which is most prevalent through the relationship between Talbot and Gwen. Despite their obvious love and affection for one another, the pair share a single kiss in the film; Talbot stares longingly at Gwen’s neckline rather than any further south.
The Wolfman is perfect as a slice of Victorian gothic escapism. But those searching for an intricate plot or a vein of originality are better off looking elsewhere.