Cayden Richards is a young, handsome eighteen-year-old with an edge. Forced to hit the road after the death of his parents, he finds his way to an isolated town to hunt down the truths of his ancestry. But in the end, who’s hunting whom?
The second of 3 werewolf films released this November (Wolfcop & Iron Wolf being the other two), Wolves aims its claws at the young adult audience. The same audience that flocked to films like The Hunger Games (2012), Divergent (2013) & The Fault In Our Stars (2014). Lucas Till plays Cayden Richards, a young man on the cusp of adulthood who suddenly finds out that he’s a bit different from everyone else – he’s a werewolf. He discovers this interesting bit of information after 3 separate incidents that take place over the space of a few days, which involve beating a rival football players head in retaliation for a cheap shot, mauling his girlfriend in a car when his hormones got out of hand, and murdering his step parents in cold blood – but did he really kill them or did someone else?
All of these incidents occurred out of the blue, Cayden had never experienced anything like them before. His dismay at the sudden physical/emotional changes lead him to run away and try to figure out why he’s suddenly all hairy, angry & horny. After a short time on the open road, he ends up at a small town called Lupine Ridge (get it?), where after a bit of a feeling out process, he manages to get work as a farmhand. But he also discovers that he’s smack dab in the middle of (for lack of a better description), a civil war between two factions of werewolves. One side is led by Connor (Jason Momoa), the alpha wolf of a pack of ferocious wolves & Tollerman (Stephen McHattie), who believes that humans and werewolves can live in relative peace – he also happens to be the farmer who hired Cayden. Despite all of this, Cayden’s arrival probably wouldn’t have raised a whisker, but when he falls for Angelina (Merritt Patterson), he raises Connor’s hackles, because Connor believes Angelina is destined to be his mate.
There is absolutely nothing new to be found here in terms of story, the similarities between this and films like Twilight (2008) is immediately evident. But none of this is to suggest that Wolves isn’t entertaining, it is. Writer/Director David Hayter does a pretty good job here with a very familiar script and some really good actors to create a believable, engrossing world. Lucas Till is tall, handsome & manages to convincingly imbue his character with a bit of pathos. Stephen McHattie brings class & a professional veneer to any project he’s involved in. Merritt Patterson is pretty and feral at the same time, but Jason Momoa steals the show here as Connor. As soon as he makes his first appearance, you’re basically riveted to him, despite the fact that he’s immediately identifiable as the bad guy. He’s basically large and in charge and his character goes through an interesting arc that has a surprise ending.
The Canadian scenery is gorgeous to look at, and cinematographer Gavin Smith does an incredible job of making it all look dreamy, romantic, eerie and even a bit surreal at moments. As I said earlier, Hayter’s script is pretty familiar, but it does have a few moments where it rises above the morass of similar scripts with a witty line or two. The makeup effects (by Dave Elsey) strike a nice balance between dogs and wolves, think of what Dee Wallace looked like at the end of The Howling (1981) and you’ll get a good idea of what to expect here – except that the creatures look a bit more furious here. Oddly enough, Hayter decided to basically forego transformation scenes – the backbone of any werewolf film. What you’ll see here is a quick shot of a back getting hairy and POOF, we have a werewolf! At first, I found this to be a little distressing, but eventually it all works out. I’m guessing Hayter didn’t have the biggest of budgets to work with here and it probably was a good decision to skip transformation scenes if they were gonna look bad because of a lack of money to execute them properly.
Although I’d never heard of this film before a few weeks ago, it was something of a event because it’s Hayter’s first film behind the camera as director. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his name, he’s the man who scripted films like X-Men (2000), X-Men 2 (2003), The Scorpion King (2002), Watchmen (2009) & the forthcoming World War III (2015). His voice should be quite familiar to those of you who watch Anime films & video games also, he’s participated in dozens of them. Sadly, the film isn’t getting the promotional push expected of a film with the pedigree of Hayter’s name behind it. For the record, his direction is smooth, confident & polished – it’s a good directorial debut.
But it’s not a very good movie. While it never bored me, Wolves didn’t really do too much to excite me either. It’s story is something I’ve seen way too many times already & it felt like it was trying to hard to follow in the shoes of Twilight at times (which is a cardinal sin for me as I believe glittery vampires are pretty damned stupid & an affront to all fans of horror films). It vacillates between a doofy love story and a vicious werewolf film too much for my liking and although it has an R rating, it isn’t all too bloody or violent. It’s a PG-13 flick for sure and the R rating would’ve hurt its chances at the box office had it gotten a wide release.
But the performances are first rate, especially Momoa’s. And despite its familiarity, the script does have a few moments where it rises above the standard tropes of the genre. Combine that with the good werewolf makeup’s and some great cinematography and you get a pretty decent, if not especially memorable, movie. Based on his debut, I fully expect to see Hayter direct a true blockbuster film sometime in the next few years. But for the here & now – Wolves is a decent enough start.
Wolves – 2.5 out of 5 shrouds.