By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Mariel Hemingway, Michael Paré, Mason Gamble
Directed by Eric Red
Written by Eric Red, Wayne Smith
Morgan Creek Entertainment
Saying that BAD MOON feels almost like the result of Jack Ketchum (and Lucky McKee) writing a werewolf flick is giving BAD MOON just a little too much credit, yet it’s the comparison I kept coming back to over the film’s runtime. A werewolf flick where a dog is the protagonist (and he’s the gosh-darned goodest boy ever) trying to protect his family from a threat only he can see is not EXACTLY what I expected to see when I dredged BAD MOON from the bottom of my Shudder queue, but it’s what I got, and I couldn’t be happier.
When I say that this film is from the dog’s perspective, I mean it: outside of a few expository scenes where we inhabit the perspectives of other characters, we mainly follow Thor (played by German Shepherd, Primo) as he sniffs around Uncle Ted (Michael Paré): instantly discovering his secret and then doing his damnedest to protect those he loves. It’s hard to understate how lovable and how fucking INTELLIGENT this dog is, and the film really boils down to a protracted standoff between the two characters: one a predator looking to possess the other’s family, and one doing everything he can to warn his family about the danger in their midst. Unfortunately, Janet (Mariel Hemingway) is frustratingly obtuse even by horror movie standards, giving Ted the benefit of the doubt to an absurd degree and even having Thor carted away by animal control. Don’t worry though, he comes back. If you’re looking to watch a dog fight a werewolf for the love of his family, and win more than once, you’re in the right place. It’s the most heartwarmingly tense horror film I’ve seen this year, and the last 20 minutes of the film were harrowing and had me screaming at the screen, only to be perfectly satisfied (and relieved) by the film’s ending.
“BAD MOON is a mixed bag of a werewolf film, but is just unique enough for you to ignore some of its more obnoxious aspects.”
Now let’s talk about the negatives, because BAD MOON also has quite a bit working against it. Most of them center around Michael Paré and Mariel Hemingway’s characters. You get the sense early on that the film isn’t even remotely going for subtlety, with Paré dropping hints, puns, and all but shouting at the other characters that he is, in fact, the werewolf. Its dramatic irony gone wrong; the audience already knows that Paré is likely the werewolf from the jump, having watched him get scratched in the opening sequence, so a couple hammy winks and nods to it might not have been a bad thing if the screenwriters had any restraint whatsoever. Instead, there’s such a multitude of them that (family or not) you wonder why nobody else in-world picks up on them, and it’s just obnoxious. Paré’s delivery of most lines also alternates between deliberately evil and bald-facedly guilty, showcasing his emotions so boldly on his sleeve that when Hemingway’s character gets wind of the massacre in the area where he used to live (a series of murders that stopped when he moved in with them), it is an ABSOLUTE FUCKING MYSTERY why it takes so long for her not to trust him.
Paré’s character spends so much of his time mustache-twirling that he might as well have been a fucking cartoon character. And this brings us to Hemingway, who is introduced to us as a savvy lawyer who can cut through the shit and sees scumbags for who they are. Yet, none of her lover’s behavior raises a single red flag, and even after she starts to think that he might be a mass murderer (in the last twenty minutes of the film), there’s a whole scene where she gets ready to go out and confront him, considers bringing a gun, and then leaves it. LEAVES IT. She even blames the dog for one of Paré’s kills, sending him off with animal control in a heartbreaking scene that, while it makes the dog’s victory in the end that much sweeter, put this character on my shit list forever. You could argue that she has blinders on because she doesn’t even think to consider that her brother might be a monster, and you’d be right, but the sheer volume of evidence this movie tosses her way makes her eventual realization come far, far too late.
A couple of final notes: the film’s transformation scene is just short of shoddy, with CG stretching glowing aspects of the antagonist’s body like someone just started playing with photoshop in the middle of the sequence. The beginning stage of the transformation is the wickedest looking, and I grew to appreciate his final stage as he chased the other cast members through the house in the film’s climax, although at first, I was a little underwhelmed because he looks like an oversized rabid raccoon. Everything in the middle? I could have done without. The opening sequence is chef’s kiss perfection, and the gore Paré leaves behind throughout the film is phenomenal, with one unlucky man being ripped apart, his corpse displayed piece by piece hanging from tree branches.
In short? BAD MOON is a mixed bag of a werewolf film, but is just unique enough for you to ignore some of its more obnoxious aspects. And by its end, I was thrilled I had watched it. I’m giving BAD MOON a seven.
Check back with us next week for a double review of Shudder’s “Queen of Black Magic” remake and the 1981 original.