January 23, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall
When I bought the DVD of “Wolves” a store employee said, “Let me know how it is. I love werewolf movies.” And so, by request, here are my thoughts on the film, in a mostly spoiler-free ramble.
First of all, full disclosure… I know a couple of people who are in this film. They are, in fact, the reason I bought it. Because, honestly, it’s fun to watch a movie and be able to say, “Hey, I know that guy.”
Having said that, my friends didn’t have so much screen-time that it will affect my objectivity regarding the rest of the movie.
The mid-1980s were the heyday of VHS movie-viewing and I was the target demographic. Through my high school years and for some time afterwards circle of friends enjoyed “Movie Marathon Saturdays.”
We’d rent six or seven movies in a variety of genres, start watching at noon and keep going till the last tape finished. Not to get too “pre-hipster” about the whole thing, but we were binge-watching movies long before binge-watching was a thing.
Among other things, these marathons resulted my personal taste in werewolf movies being defined by films like “An American Werewolf In London” and “The Howling.” In addition to the story, characters, and makeup effects, the overall aesthetic of those films (and others like them) is what mainly appealed to me.
I found that same aesthetic in “Wolves.”
The story focuses on Cayden Richards, played by Lucas Till, who recently discovered that he is a purebred werewolf. The discovery did not go smoothly, and he is on the run. Finding his way to the small town of Lupine Ridge, he gets caught in the middle of an uneasy truce between Jason Momoa and Stephen McHattie.
Jason Momoa is known for his roles as Ronon Dex in “Stargate: Atlantis,” Conan the barbarian in, well, you know, and Khal Drogo in “Game of Thrones.” He’s not a guy you mess with. Stephen McHattie’s relaxed, calm delivery of his character makes him the perfect person to mess with Jason Momoa. It makes for an interesting balance between impulsive rage and well-planned levelheadedness. (Fun Fact: More than half of the Lance Henriksen sighting in the last thirty years have actually been Stephen McHattie.)
“Wolves” was written and directed my David Hayter. Hayter is the screenwriter of the first two X-Men movies, as well as “Watchmen.” For those indulge in gaming, he is best known as the voice of Solid Snake in the “Metal Gear Solid” video game series.
He also plays a mean guitar.
This is his first feature film direction, although he has written the screenplays for several significant features. Going from established writer to noteworthy director is a challenging bit of personal alchemy. David Hayter pulls it off.
There were two specific moments in the film that, for me, clearly demonstrated Hayter’s sense of symmetry between the two hats he wore for this project. These moments had no real impact on the story, they simply fall into the category of “nice touch.”
One involved the tipsy bartender pausing mid-stumble.
The other involved a character making non-committal “I don’t know what to say in this situation” noises, like people do in the real world but you never see it in movies.
In each of these instances, I figure one of two things happened…
A/ The actors tried something different on the umpteenth take and upon later viewing, Hayter had enough objectivity to say, “Y’know, that actually works better than it was scripted.”
or B/ He actually wrote fine details like that into the script.
Either way, I like the result. These minor moments added a sense of fallible “human-ness,” made even deeper by the fact that these humans are wolves.
David Hayter’s sense of detail shows in other ways, as well. Specific attention was paid to developing individual postures for various members of Momoa’s pack of werewolves. Each one is visually distinctive, a fact that shows most clearly with the I nicknamed “Crouchy” although he had an actual character name.
Another key element in the aesthetic that appealed to me was, of course, the werewolf effects. Out of necessity there are a couple of artificial effects, possible CG, but probably just a matter of painting individual frames. A majority of the visual effects are done with practical makeup. Dave and Lou Elsey designed the creature effects and they’re just the right mix of the classic Lon Chaney Jr wolf man and the more modern wolf-ish look for the discerning HD viewer.
As for the story itself, I enjoyed it. Trying to stay mostly spoiler-free, I will say that there were enough story element active to keep me interested, and enough werewolf fight scenes to keep me excited. There were even an A-Team element thrown in for fun. Also, there was one significant twist that I didn’t see coming, although looking back, all the clues were there.
So, for the guy at HMV, it’s a fun movie, I liked it. The cast certainly seemed to enjoy it, especially Jason Momoa. Check it out.
And, as always, whether you’re a wolf or not, try to be nice to each other.