Wolves is a strange beast (ZING) in that half the film feels like a declawed melodrama, while the other half forms a cartoonishly vibrant creature-feature with gore to match. Writer/Director David Hayter (X-Men/Watchmen) transforms the primal nature of familial wolfpacks into a Hatfield/McCoy situation where a town is divided by afflicted bloodlines, mirroring historical territory wars with a horrifically inaccurate twist. Points are awarded for avoiding another Benicio Del Toro debacle that favors CG werewolves over suited mongrels, yet the costumed characters almost look like furry cosplayers at points when focused on for too long, ruining whatever illusion an even hairier Jason Momoa creates. Sometimes you’ll find yourself fearing the ferocious roars of Hayter’s bloodthirsty clan, while other moments will strangely make you want to pet Momoa’s belly while his leg twitches uncontrollably.
Lucas Till plays Cayden Richards, a teenage boy dealing with something far more dangerous than normal growing pains. After figuring out he carries a werewolf affliction, the death of his parents causes him to hit the road in search of answers. His journey leads to a run-down bar where he meets an eccentric wolfman named Wild Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson), who points him in the direction of Lupine Ridge. Upon his arrival, Cayden is “greeted” by a rugged gang-leader named Connor (Jason Momoa). After being chased out of the town bar, Cayden is offered actual hospitality by a farmer named John Tollerman (Stephen McHattie), who gives the boy room and board in exchange for his farmhand services. As Connor’s aggression grows, Cayden starts to learn the secrets withheld by all the townsfolk of Lupine Ridge – secrets that could cost Cayden his life.
Hayter’s werewolf war feels very much like its trying to capture the visual feel of a comic book adaptation, inserting still-motion graphic montages and scenes buried in a rendered darkness akin to 30 Days Of Night. Wolves goes a little overboard with its green screen capabilities though, painfully opting for numerous shots of a windblown Lucas Till riding his motorcycle through animated desert landscapes. Some shots capture enchanted enhancements thanks to touched-up CG manipulations, yet others feel recognizably out of place like said travelscape. Why opt for fake scenery and a shaking camera when there are breathtaking desert landscapes that exist all around us?
Can we also discuss the werewolf suits that Till, Momoa and company are wearing when fully turned? Going the full-body route certainly helps make Wolves stand out against less-fuzzy competitors, but these wolves appear a bit fantastical. When I think of werewolves, I think of grotesque figures, snarly snouts and stringy strands of hair, but that’s far from Hayter’s well-groomed vision. Having just attended the New York Comic-Con, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to costumed cosplayers wearing heavy makeup whenever Till transformed, almost as if Hayter tried to gussy-up his werewolves. Primped, groomed and outfitted, Wolves ensures that each beastly animal looks their utmost adorable, primed for their next “Furry” convention panel.
At least Jason Momoa has some fun playing Connor, the chief werewolf dickhead with a questionable fashion sense. Accessorizing a burly fur coat with necklaces, a skull-shaped pipe and a Slash-inspired top hat, Momoa spends most of his time unsympathetically killing townsfolk or chasing after Lucas Till. Connor is exactly the confident type a WWE-wrestler-turned-actor might portray, but there’s a larger-than-life appearance that the actor taps into that earns his talon-like claws.
Lucas Till, on the other hand, gets stuck playing a confused boy just trying to make the most of his werewolf curse – your average coming-of-age story. Come to think of it, Wolves feels very much like an R-rated Young Adult adaptation that abandons all emotional sentiments once it realizes all the werewolf fighting goes over with loads more success than Till’s conflicted mindset. Merritt Patterson is pranced out as Till’s obvious love interest, teaching him valuable lessons about passion and acceptance, and Till goes about being the rebellious hero Lupine Ridge needs. Their relationship is rudimentary from the start, but without their lusty feelings, Wolves wouldn’t have the opportunity to showcase a wild werewolf sex scene – so there’s that!
Wolves’ best moments involve Stephen McHattie, copious amounts of werewolf carnage and a driving Southern rockabilly soundtrack, but at its worst, Hayter’s wannabe YA adaptation is emotionless, flat and goofy. Werewolves have never felt more mainstream, even when bleeding from every torn-open wound, as movies like Wer are striving to reinvent our conceptual knowledge of werewolf horror movies. Wolves never once attempts a true genre scare – which I respect because Hayter knows the film he’s trying to make – yet when all is said and done, it’s like you just want to pet the werewolves while crooning “Aw, isn’t that cute!” There’s an audience out there who might love Wolves, maybe those who prefer their horror films in the fluffiest form, but harder genre fans are going to be sorely disappointed by yet another watered-down flick about some big, not-so-bad wolves.
Wolves is part bumbling YA wannabe, part goofy werewolf comedy, but wholly underwhelming no matter how you cut it.