Cayden Richards (Lucas Till) is a popular high school quarterback with wealthy parents, a hot girlfriend and not a single worry in the world. Well, he has been having violent and horrific nightmares every night, and he almost kills an opposing player on the field in a fit of rage, but aside from that he really doesn’t have a single worry. But that all changes when he realizes he’s a werewolf.
He attacks his hot girlfriend, murders his own parents and goes on the run across country, but his escape very quickly brings him in contact with a man with the same hairy affliction and a suggestion of where Cayden should go for answers. That destination is the remote mountain town of Lupine Ridge, obviously, but Cayden is surprised to discover it offers answers to questions he didn’t even know he had.
Writer/director David Hayter’s Wolves is a YA film in, well, wolf’s clothing. Just about every aspect, from story arc to character types, feel shaped like any number of YA films in recent years, but the film’s ‘R’ rating appears to remove it from the grasp of teen viewers. But the promise of that rating and the recent red-band trailer – basically gory werewolf carnage and shaggy coupling – never actually comes to fruition resulting instead in a slight, mildly goofy and toothless werewolf movie suitable for just about anyone interested in hormonal journeys.
The closest the film gets to earning its rating is a dismembered limb, a couple f-bombs, a nudity-free romp in a barn and a bad guy (Jason Momoa) prone to impregnating women by force. (We never see that last bit, but he reportedly raped in the past and he’s planning to do it again in the future. He is the bad guy after all.) These things are neither good nor bad on their own, but they feel perfectly misguided and misjudged here. Go lighter with them and the film can be aimed at teens, but go heavier and you have a sexy action/horror film capable of satisfying adult fans of genre fare. Wolves does neither and instead, like the bland inverse of this particular Venn diagram’s union, it just sits in the middle appealing to neither camp.
And yet, there’s a small charm to the movie thanks to the werewolf makeup, a fun performance from Momoa and an ever-so slightly kooky tone.
Hayter’s (X-Men, X2, Watchmen) script is simple and obvious in many ways, but it’s at its most painful in the third act when a series of revelations drop meant to shift blame, guilt and affection. They feel extraneous to the narrative, but again they fit the YA mold like bumpers added to keep morality in check. Happily, the script also manages to feature some entertaining exchanges including one where Cayden tells the pack that “Wolves don’t terrorize towns, or kidnap innocents, or brutalize women!”
He doesn’t keep the tale tightly wound to convention either and actually differentiates those who are werewolves by bloodline from those who simply suffered a bite – they’re purebreds and mutts, respectively. There’s no talk of silver bullets, not even to dismiss the idea, and the lycanthrope action isn’t restricted to the light of a full moon. And speaking of action, any expectations of bipedal beasts tearing into each other’s flesh should be left at the door. The film follows more of a ’90s action through line as a stranger arrives in town and steps up to defend innocents against local villains – and he does so with MMA-style fisticuffs and explosives of course. They all just happen to also be werewolves.
Cayden provides voice-over for his story, and it’s both unnecessary and delivered in the same flat tone that Till uses elsewhere, but cinema has a long history of main protagonists being outshone by their supporting players. We never really feel what should be a dramatic internal struggle – he’s killed his parents and is a werewolf after all – and neither apparently does he. The rest of the cast fares as well or better with Stephen McHattie and Momoa being the standouts. The latter in particular is having a blast as the surly, pale-eyed leader of the town’s hairy-chested pack.
There aren’t really any transformations here per se, but we see a lot of finished werewolves. They have an aggressively personable design, partly due to still wearing clothes even in werewolf form but also because their faces retain the actor’s features in many ways. Momoa actually gets the most detailed make-up (see pic above), and the result is a fun take on the usual as we see characters good and bad brawling and banging at various degrees of wolfiness.
Hayter’s film offers a somewhat fresh take on werewolf cinema, but it comes packaged with excess silliness and simplicity. Wolves is basically a YA action movie with werewolves – and yes I realize that sounds like it should/could be awesome – but none of the elements stand out aside from the make-up.
The Upside: Practical werewolf make-up is solid; Jason Momoa is a fun and threatening villain
The Downside: Should have gotten more out of its ‘R’ rating as it’s essentially gore-less and sex-less; script is too simple; female characters are mostly weak
On the Side: David Hayter is listed on IMDB as writing and directing an upcoming Black Widow standalone film, but per the latest interviews with him there’s no actual plans for the film’s production just yet.