Directed by David Hayter
In true earnest 80s throwback fashion, coupled with a hip, sleek and modern look, Wolves is the perfect hybrid between The Howling and “Hemlock Grove.”
Handsome all-American boy Cayden Richards (Lucas Till, X-Men: First Class, Stoker) has it all. He’s got a square jaw, blonde locks, loving parents, is captain of the football team, a straight-A student, and he has a gorgeous girlfriend who puts out. What more could a guy want?
I guess the right question really is, what more could a werewolf want? As a werewolf, Cayden isn’t so blessed… after he turns into a hairy, toothy, snarling, bloodthirsty and brainless beast for the first time, he shrinks back to human-size and finds himself alone and on the run from murder charges.
Ultimately he winds up in the picturesque town of Lupine Ridge, where two clans of shape-shifters are on the brink of a civil war. The main players are Connor (Jason Momoa, “Stargate: Atlantis,” “Game of Thrones”), the formidable, purebred alpha of a savage pack, and Tollerman (Stephen McHattie, Pontypool, “The Strain”), a no-nonsense farmer committed to protecting human lives. Cayden’s arrival in town probably wouldn’t have otherwise raised a hackle, but when he falls for Angelina (Merritt Patterson, “Ravenswood”), the luscious lady betrothed to Connor, it’s a battle to the death.
The story is a tried and true one, but it’s elevated by a layered, well thought-out story, fully formed characters, and dialogue that’s fang-sharp. What a wonderful debut for writer-director David Hayter (screenwriter, X-Men and Watchmen… too bad he didn’t call this movie “Wolfmen”).
The world he’s created is dark-fantasy beautiful, enhanced by gorgeous, very big, cinematic camerawork from DP Gavin Smith (who, interestingly, has mostly done TV). The music, too, is fitting. The score (by two composers) is strong but not overbearing, and the use of vocal pop songs is thankfully kept to the bare minimum (though I must say, the cover of the 1930s ditty “You Rascal You” by Hanni El Khatib is brilliantly and humorously placed).
Original werewolf designs by master monster maker Dave Elsey (X-Men: First Class, Hellraiser, Alien 3 to name but a few) are an excellent combination of pooch and person, allowing the actors to retain their own features and emote, while still looking transformed and grotesque.
The actors are all well cast. Lead Till looks the part but is more than just a pretty boy, while the even prettier Momoa is twice as nice as the villainous alpha-dog. McHattie, as any genre fan knows, adds a plus-plus to any proceeding. Patterson elevates her role to something more than “the girl” without stealing the show from the main attraction.
Having said all that, Wolves is still a teen werewolf movie. It doesn’t transcend its bounds, but that’s OK – it’s a fun, easy on the eyes hoot (or howl, as the case may be).