WOLVES, or: Teen Wolf vs. Sons of Lycanthropy

Wolves_Jason-Momoa

WOLVES is an attempt to mount a new horror mythology from a director with one of the most unusual resumes in recent memory. It’s also a shoe-in for one of the worst films of 2014.

We are introduced to Cayden (Lucas Till), courtesy of one of the most ridiculous voiceovers I’ve ever been subjected to, at least in a major production. Cayden has everything. He’s got a pair of adoring parents. He’s on the football team in the type of small town where even adults without kids think that’s a big deal. He’s got a smoking hot girlfriend that he seems as interested in as any teenage boy without a central nervous system. Yeah, he’s the king alright, living the dream in a manner that suggests the screenwriter watched a bunch of lame TV to figure out what matters to young people.

At the football game, a bully from the other team takes a pot shot at Cayden which should have gotten him taken aside and ejected before it went any further. At least, that would be what would happen in a halfway competent film. But no, he’s allowed to walk off and laugh with his teammates about it, apparently safe in the knowledge that he didn’t just screw them over by committing an egregious foul. Cayden jumps on the bully and seriously injures him before being pulled off. He confides to his girlfriend that he felt an animal force taking over and didn’t feel responsible for his actions. Naturally, she thinks this is the perfect time to give up her virginity to Cayden. They start to get steamy but she is upset when it appears he is not a slow and caring lover. Instead he acts like a beast; the same beast he was talking about before she made what I’m sure is just one of many poor life decisions to come. She escapes but Cayden is shaken. He goes home and sleeps it off, only to wake up to discover his parents slaughtered. Cayden believes he is responsible for this and runs away as law enforcement mounts a massive manhunt.

As I’ve established with my petty insults, Cayden isn’t very bright, which means he’s in good company with everyone else in this film. But he’s seen his share of horror films I’m sure, so he is aware of what’s happening to him. He goes from town to town, and bar to bar, aimlessly drifting and trying to stay one step ahead of Johnny Law. He meets a disfigured kook named Wild Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson) who immediately outs Cayden for his lycanthropy, but that’s okay because Joe is a werewolf too. Joe hangs around just long enough to nearly kill a drunk and tell Cayden where he might find some answers about himself.

Cayden pulls into the town of Lupine Ridge and immediately senses something is wrong. The town lives in a combination of fear and reverence to Connor (Jason Momoa), a hulking man with smoldering eyes. Connor has a pack of his own, one that looks like a biker gang who can’t afford motorcycles. Our wolfy protagonist gets a job as a farmhand and decides to stay out of town, but soon trouble comes looking for him. It isn’t hard to figure out that the entire town of Lupine Ridge is made up of werewolves and even though he’s not sure why, Connor figures that Cayden is more trouble than he’s worth. Cayden decides he needs to clean things up once he learns about his connection to this town and about the nasty designs Connor has on Cayden’s new girlfriend, Angelina (Merritt Patterson).

"Are we almost done here? I have to get back to high school, win a basketball championship and learn some important lessons about growing up."
“Are we almost done here? I have to get back to high school, win a basketball championship and learn some important lessons about growing up.”

Perhaps I have been a little too insulting in describing the wolves of… um, WOLVES. It’s nothing personal against the intelligence of anyone who made the film. It’s just that these folks aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed and are thus, not terribly interesting or worth giving them your ninety minutes. The acting is mostly awful, though that might be the blame of the screenplay more than anything else. Stephen McHattie plays the firm-but-fair John Tollerman and of course rises above the one-note performances on display. McHattie has one of those voices that coils around you like a boa constrictor and doesn’t let go. Patterson is no newcomer, though I confess this was my first time seeing her in anything. She has a little spark to her that suggests she could go on and continue to do good things.

But that’s the thing about WOLVES. You find little oases of quality amidst a desert of ridiculous pseudo-MTV hokum. WOLVES marks the directorial debut of David Hayter, a screenwriter with credits that include THE SCORPION KING, WATCHMEN and the first two X-MEN films. Hayter is also a voice actor for cartoons and video games and has provided the iconic voice for such standout characters as Captain America and Solid Snake. He also wrote the script for this one and that might be part of the problem.

WOLVES moves along at a nicely brisk pace, but it’s all over the place. We are treated to so many scenes that just seem phony. This includes minor things like a redundant news broadcast that suggests nobody involved has a frame of knowledge for what news broadcasts look like. The phoniness also makes its way into major plot points such as Connor’s reaction to Cayden’s deep dark secrets. The film moves from one thing to the next without rhyme, reason or enough charm to make such sins forgivable.

In short, it feels like Hayter filmed an early draft, rather than take the time to whittle off the rough edges and present a screenplay that really works. He seems to have been so preoccupied by his first job as director that the story doesn’t get enough attention. And if the story doesn’t work, the film doesn’t work. I hate to give such a sad diagnosis, but it may have been better off if Hayter hadn’t directed his script. It is entirely likely that a different director would have noted the inherent flaws in the screenplay and worked with the screenwriter to give it a much-needed polish. WOLVES could have been molded into something better, preferably by someone with a more interesting visual style.

The whole thing looks corny, which is normally an endearing point for someone like me. And there were a couple moments I smiled, such as when Cayden demonstrates his werewolf strength by lifting an obviously foam rock. But it became evident that I was laughing at the film and not with it, especially once the werewolf makeup effects came out to play. I don’t think it was too much to expect that werewolf makeup would improve in the days since Michael J. Fox was a teenager, but for this film it obviously was. When the hairy guys engage in paw-to-paw combat, it looks like a slap fight between ‘roided out hobos. Not that the actors beneath that makeup are able to convey a sense of menace. Momoa may be nurturing a long in development following, but his villain here is ridiculous an impossible to take seriously as a threat.

A great werewolf epic will be coming, and I sense it will be coming soon. WOLVES is not it.  Awful.

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RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

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