I believe the hardest of the classic monsters to get right is the werewolf. Plenty of films have attempted to bring this legendary beastie to screen, with mostly below-average results. I can count on six fingers the werewolf movies that I consider worthwhile, despite the yearly attempts for one movie or another to bring the monster to life. The look of a werewolf can be laughable if done too cheaply, and getting the tortured spirit of the cursed wolf-person is no easy nut to crack. I say this to explain my excitement to see Wer, the latest from William Brent Bell, director of The Devil Inside and Stay Alive.
Bell attempts to bring the werewolf legend into the modern age with a premise that has all the promise to do just that. A gruesome murder scene is found – a husband and child mangled, a mother clinging to life after being mauled. The ensuing investigation shifts focus from a potential wild animal at the center to the quiet-yet-imposing figure of Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’ Connor). The case against Talan is circumstantial, and attorney Kate Moore (A.J. Cook, Final Destination 2) is brought on to defend Talan while the community calls for his blood. Moore is the type of idealistic attorney we’ve seen before, determined to free Talan when she and her ex-boyfriend/medical adviser Gavin (Simon Quarterman, The Devil Inside) discover a disease that fits Talan’s curios afflictions.
During his treatment, Talan freaks out and murders a ton of orderlies and goes on the lam. Moore must team with local detective Klaus Pistor (Sebastian Roche, who you may recognize from numerous television roles including Supernatural and Fringe), a shady character who may have been involved in the death of Talan’s father to secure a sweet government land buy deal. Talan and her team follow the police to Talan’s home, where they hunt for the supernaturally strong murderer and cast sideways glances at Gavin, who has been acting odd since being scratched by Talan.
The film is presented in a cinema verite style that borders on found footage, which Bell explored in his previous outing to fairly uninspired effect. It plays a bit better here, but I did find myself wishing someone would hold the damn camera still every now and again. The problems of Wer are far more fundamental than the shaky-cam style of its presentation, however. Along the way, I tugged at threads of logic, such as why Moore is brought along on this manhunt when the police are far better equipped to deal with a rampaging murderer. She makes the case to Pistor that she’s responsible for the death of the medical team examining Talan or some such nonsense, but in no real world would she be allowed the ‘tip of the spear’ access she has here. Also, there’s a not-so-surprising showdown between Talan and Gavin (who gets a bit wolfy, too, no spoiler there as its telegraphed far in advance) that later results in an interview with Gavin where he tries to convince the world of the existence of creatures like Talan. Wouldn’t the video taken by the multiple police personnel (who we know have cameras strapped on their bodies thanks to an earlier scene) serve this purpose? And you’re telling me the helicopter shining a spotlight on them didn’t catch a frame or two?
It doesn’t help that the werewolf transformations are basically some CGI hair growth and teeth appliances with a dash of shoulder-swelling. These werewolves are not, in fact, very wolfy. Sure, they’re strong and can jump around and what not, but they’re hardly very frightening. The entire film suffers from this ‘close, but no cigar’ vibe, where the premise is almost enough to hold the film up, and the ideas are almost fresh enough to sustain the runtime, but, at the end of the day, this feels like a strangely hollow and unsatisfying movie. I so wanted there to be more exploration of the idea of a werewolf on trial, to see Moore begin to suspect, then believe that her client is truly a murderous monster. Instead, it all happens in one scene, so we can get on to the manhunt that’s routine and unsurprising.
It doesn’t help in my final estimation of the film that I have so recently seen the movie Afflicted, which uses similar tropes – the legendary monster and found footage, updated in a modern context – to great affect, and even turned me around on found footage as a still-viable and effective tool. Wer is not terrible, but disappointing. There is so much possibility inherent in the premise and the potential avenues the movie could explore that to see it tread familiar ground makes it all the more of a let-down. I do believe a truly great werewolf movie can be made in the modern age, but this is, sadly, not it.