Werewolf by Night ignores the MCU entirely, and that’s a good thing
As long as you know what you’re getting into, this is a pretty good watch as we enter the spooky season.
With Halloween fast approaching, Disney+ released Werewolf By Night – the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four, on Oct 7.
Unlike the other entries in Phase Four though, Werewolf By Night isn’t a series or movie. It’s a one-hour special that’s completely disconnected from the rest of the MCU, and takes place in an unfamiliar setting with brand-new characters.
After the death of revered monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone, six elite monster hunters gather in hopes of inheriting his Bloodstone – said to be the strongest weapon against monsters. Werewolf by Night follows them as they embark on a hunt like no other, risking their own lives to obtain his power.
The special is shot almost entirely in black and white, harkening back to classic horror movies like Dracula (1931) and Psycho (1960). It kicks off with campy shrieks and vintage-esque film distortions, cueing us in that we’re in for something kitschy and entirely unlike modern Marvel titles.
We follow Jack (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) as he enters the Bloodstone Temple and meets the rest of the hunters vying for the Bloodstone. Before the hunt can begin, Ulysses’ disgraced daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly) crashes the ceremony and is begrudgingly allowed to participate – though she disavowed her birthright to the Bloodstone when she left the family.
Ulysses’ widow tells them they will be hunting a terrifying beast, and that the winner will be whoever can grab the Bloodstone which has been attached to it.
As they enter the hunt, something notable is the silence, which leaves viewers on the edge of their seat from the moment the contenders enter Bloodstone’s garden to begin the hunt.
The six hunters are split up, and tension only mounts as they explore the garden on high alert. Every corner feels like a trap about to spring, and every rustle of the bushes fills you with dread as you wonder if this will be the character that gets killed off first.
However, what starts as a nail-biting, dread-filled introduction to a terrifying situation is abruptly shattered. Marvel shows have a history of undercutting serious moments with comedy, and that unfortunately works against Werewolf by Night as it changes from a high-stakes thriller to an action comedy within minutes.
The genre takes another abrupt shift once one of the hunters is discovered to be a monster in disguise, and the rest of the hunters and Bloodstone family turn against them. From then until its conclusion, Werewolf by Night poses one question: what makes a human so different from a monster?
Since it’s only an hour long, most of the characters are left undeveloped in favour of the overarching story. It becomes very easy to identify characters that will matter to the plot – simply because those that are unimportant are left unnamed.
However, every actor delivers in their own way. The simplicity of the side characters actually lends to the story, as each character’s makeup and demeanour more than convey what kind of role they’re meant to play.
As for named characters like Elsa, Jack, and Ulysses’ widow, their over-the-top performances fall in line with the camp attributed to black and white cinema, making what would feel like “too much” in any other Marvel show just enough for this one.
Since Werewolf By Night is cut off from the mainline MCU, it flourishes as its own self-contained story unburdened by the pressure of its universe. Every moment of the show feels necessary, like it serves this story instead of hinting at ones to come.
Don’t assume that there are zero ties to the MCU, however. In the comics, Elsa Bloodstone is one of Deadpool’s allies and is affiliated with Blade – yes, the same Blade that’s getting his own MCU movie in 2023 and has already been teased in Eternals via Kit Harington’s character.
As the MCU continues to expand through its Disney+ titles, we can only assume Elsa will return soon.
Overall, Werewolf By Night is a fairly well-executed foray into horror, where Marvel has hinted it wants to head towards (see: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness).
However, if you’re looking to be truly frightened this Halloween, maybe give this one a miss.