Werewolf by Night (2022, Michael Giacchino)

It’s not going to seem like it in a few paragraphs, but I am a fan of director Giacchino. Or, more accurately, I am a fan of Giacchino’s directing. Werewolf by Night is easily the most interesting MCU project in the brand’s fourteen years. Most of the credit goes to director Giacchino, who does a phenomenal job directing and… a better-than-expected job scoring.

The music’s good enough I didn’t think it was Giacchino, until I realized it was just lifting from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Still, impressive. Most impressive when adjusted for Giacchino’s scale.

As a composer, Giacchino does forgettable variations on John Williams themes, the immediately forgettable, entirely perfunctory MCU scores, and bad Star Trek music. Is he the most prolific of his similar blockbuster bland colleagues? Not worth looking up. He’s not even one of the better ones.

But, damn, does he love movies and know how to make them. Or at least one. Technically, of course, it’s a “Marvel Studios Special Presentation.” Think a longer “Charlie Brown” special. It runs approximately forty-five minutes, plus minus all the translating credits (sadly, no credits scenes, either), so they’re not calling it the first Disney+ movie. It’s not even the longest Marvel episode. It’s just… a special. And very special.

Night opens with narration explaining we’ve veered into the dark side of the Marvel Universe—the Dark Universe, as it were, or Avengers Dark. In forty-five minutes, the MCU loops Universal’s monsters movie reboot dreams and the Warner Bros. JLA Dark dreams, which they gave up on, more times than it takes Superman to go around the Earth to turn back time.

A group of monster hunters is getting together; see, thanks to “Witcher,” they can just say monster hunters. The monster-hunting patriarch has died, and the anonymous hunters are vying for the mantle; if they win, they get the Bloodstone and possibly an appearance in a Captain America movie. Bloodstone was a Captain America thing in the eighties.

There are six hunters, all unknown to one another. Laura Donnelly plays the only one not anonymous. She’s the patriarch’s estranged daughter. Harriet Sansom Harris is the widowed evil stepmother.

Harris makes the first act of Werewolf. She’s hilarious and scary, especially once the corpse puppet gimmicks get started, which must be seen versus described.

Gael García Bernal plays the lead, one of the monster hunters, but he’s got a different reason for being there and a secret all his own. He and Donnelly become allies as the other monster hunters hunt one another and their prize, a mysterious beast in a labyrinth-type hunting ground. They also get a couple great character moments together.

In addition to Giacchino’s direction, all the technicals are outstanding, particularly Maya Shimoguchi’s Art Deco production design. Zoë White’s (mostly) black and white photography captures it beautifully, especially the blacks and whites.

The special’s got numerous secret weapons, starting with the monster they’re hunting, but Donnelly quickly becomes invaluable. Since Bernal’s hiding things from the audience and everyone else, Donnelly gets to be de facto protagonist for a bit. It works out.

Werewolf by Night’s a great first outing for the MCU’s “Special Presentations,” but it’s exceptional work from Giacchino. Maybe he should give up his day job and focus on his strengths.

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