Film Reviews

Wolfen, the Citizen Kane of Werewolf Movies

“My goal is to update weekly” is a direct quote I posted on Facebook regarding this blog.

Then I started watching Battlestar Galactica.

I’m almost done, so I am again striving to meet the (somewhat realistic) goals I’ve made for myself.  Here’s my review of Wolfen, which I meant to post over a week ago.  It’s a bizarre one, guys.

The Film:


Where to Watch:

SearchOhio that shit; alternatively, buy/rent from Amazon or stream elsewhere

The Premise:

Someone or something is brutally murdering the people of New York City.  Albert Finney is the totally retro detective who investigates the murders and stares into a lot of mirrors.  Inevitably, there are wolves, conspiracies, and cults explained by a young Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama from Battlestar Galactica!).

The Uncondensed Version:

Our movie opens with the demolition of a building in a really rundown part of the Bronx.  Then we get footage of these Native American guys (one of whom is EJO) standing on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Apparently this film was revolutionary because of the camera technique used to see from the predator’s perspective, which is part thermal camera, part acid trip.  I just found it really distracting and it made me question if this is really how wolves see.  Has there been any scientific research about how wolves see?  (Nobody had better ask me this at the ref desk.)

So anyway, when we have our first murders, they are trippy as fuck.  For whatever reason, the governor and his wife have their chauffeur drive them all to Battery Park at 4 in the morning.  Because they’re dumb.  In true horror movie fashion, the black guy is the first to die, but the governor and his wife follow shortly after.

a woman in an evening gown walks towards a car in the park, the image and colors distorted
This is the way wolves see you before you DIE.

We finally meet the detective, Albert Finney, who is all ‘70s glam in this movie, when he goes to investigate the murders the next morning.  He is eating something the entire time, which is incredibly distracting.  He is also eating a COOKIE while he watches the autopsies being performed.  It made me never want to eat a cookie again.  For about 3 minutes.

a man with curly hair pushed back by a headband holds the receiver of a payphone next to his ear
Note the headband.

Then we meet a criminal psychologist who will be working with Albert Finney.  They go on a date, which I thought would only end in tears, but is actually not a catastrophic mistake.  In a move made specifically to garner the interest of librarians (read:  cat ladies), the psychologist has a cat!

At this point I started to lose interest because I wanted to see some fucking werewolves, so this may not be the most accurate plot synopsis on the web.  There’s an eco-terrorist group the governor’s niece is involved with called the Götterdämmerung (seriously, is it a requirement to mention Götterdämmerung in every bad movie?).  I think the assumption is that they’re somehow involved, but Albert Finney continues to investigate.

He talks to EJO, who kind of fucks with him by pretending to be a werewolf.  EJO gets naked, runs around the beach, and does some pretty wonderful crazy eyes as part of his “transforming” face.

a shirtless man looks around him intensely, wide-eyed in the dark
This makes me wish Adama were secretly a werewolf.

One of the werewolves FINALLY appears after an hour and a half; it’s just a black wolf.  HIGHLY DISAPPOINTING.

Then EJO and the other Native American guy explain the Wolfen, who are a really old group of wolves with special abilities and may or may not be gods.  This is when the movie gets really philosophical and pushes an environmental message that comes out of nowhere with lines including:

“Reality is just a state of mind.”

“To them, you are the savages.”

“In the end, it is all for hunting ground.”

“You don’t have the eyes of a hunter.  You have the eyes of the dead.”

This is some heavy shit for a werewolf movie.  Albert Finney seems to agree, as he just kind of slowly unravels for the remainder of the film.  He stares into fragmented mirrors A LOT and thinks about wind chimes.  He also repeats series of words to himself, such as “territory, terrorism, terror,” and thinks about demolition, urban renewal projects, and loss of land.  The last 20 minutes of this film is basically just Albert Finney repeating words to himself.

a sweaty man's face is distorted in a mirror
Fragmentation. Broken society. Koyaanisqatsi.

When Albert Finney, the chief of police, and the psychologist go outside one evening, it’s foggy, atmospheric, and suddenly…wolves!  EVERYWHERE.  The police chief gets murdered, then his car explodes for no apparent reason.

a man in a suit holds a police radio in his car, looking in terror at the wolf behind him in the backseat

Now Albert Finney REALLY loses it.  He’s just kind of sitting in a corner holding a wolf pelt, occasionally repeating random words to himself.  The Wolfen are watching; they break through the glass to kill him and the psychologist.  Albert Finney aims his gun at one of the wolves, then lowers it and empties the bullets.  He then destroys the scale model of a new development, and the police arrive, opening fire.  The wolves suddenly VANISH.

Last lines of this film really drive home the environmental message of this movie:

“In arrogance man knows nothing of what exists. There exists on this earth such as we dare not imagine; life as certain as our death, life that will prey on us as surely as we prey on this earth.”

The Critique:

This is the Citizen Kane of werewolf movies.  Or at least it wants to be.  It was also sort of trying to be a film noir, so it resulted in a lot of shots of characters walking along alleyways in the dark, which became a bit tiresome.

There are so many wind chimes, reflections, and repetitions in this film that I didn’t find particularly effective.  The movie ends as it began—with a demolition.  The writer/director probably loved that this reinforced the cyclical nature of our existence, the inevitable destruction that accompanies our way of life, the damage we bring upon ourselves and our environment over and over again, but I didn’t think it was that clever.

A werewolf movie is the last place I would have expected the message to overwhelm the story, but it did.  I anticipated terror and werewolves, and this film didn’t deliver.

My biggest takeaway from this film is that BSG is always relevant.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther2/5 Pink Panther heads

It would probably be 1/5, but I threw in a bonus Pink Panther for EJO running around naked.

I thought this movie would click for me at some point, but it never really did.  It was just really strange and pretentious.  Plus I wanted werewolves!  Footage of wolves ≠ werewolves.

FDR, American Badass is coming up, I swear to god.

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