Studio: Universal Studios
Director: William Brent Bell
Writer: William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman
Producer: Matthew Peterman, Morris Paulson, Steven Schneider
Stars: A.J. Cook, Brian Scott O’Connor, Sebastian Roche, Simon Quarterman, Vik Sahay
The defense team investigating a man suspected of murder comes to discover that he may actually be a werewolf.
Legends regarding lycanthropy do not exist inside the world of “Wer.” Neither do Lon Chaney, Jr. movies. Either that or everybody in “Wer” is completely ignorant of both.
In France, a hulking man with excessive body hair stands accused of savagely killing two American tourists. The arrest takes place after eyewitnesses originally attribute the maulings to an unidentifiable beast covered in fur and standing on two legs. The man’s legal defense team begins their investigation by interviewing the man’s mother, an old woman from Romania who claims that her son suffers from a rare affliction passed down through the family’s male bloodline.
At this early point, what is actually taking place should be crystal clear to everyone involved, no matter how outlandish it might be to consider. Yet no one, not even as a quick joke to offer a humorous quip, thinks to suggest “werewolf” out loud as a possible explanation. This would be like investigating an exsanguination via neck puncture wounds in Transylvania and not entertaining the idea that a vampire could be the culprit, even to dismiss it as a ludicrous thought.
The first mention of the word “werewolf,” one of only three such uses throughout the duration of the film, finally comes around the 49-minute mark when an investigator does background research on his computer. Hilariously, the investigator ignores the reference completely, instead focusing on some nonsense about full moons affecting water in the human body in ways that trigger epileptic seizures granting superhuman strength. Why is everyone putting up such a fierce fight to overlook the obvious?
The brutish man escapes police custody until a citywide manhunt corners him in an abandoned building. There, cameras mounted on the assault team’s torsos record the man transforming into a hairy, fanged creature in real time, just before he falls eight stories to land on all fours and scamper away. In the discussion afterward about what everyone just witnessed, the doctor working on the case remarks, “I don’t know what he is.”
Maybe he doesn’t, but everyone on the other side of the screen does. The story is a mystery only for these characters, which turns the film into an overlong investigation into uncovering what the audience already knows from the beginning. When the man who no one thinks to presume is a werewolf, yet is obviously a werewolf, scratches another man who then grows gradually more ill as time wears on, is it really supposed to be a revelation when that second man eventually morphs into a werewolf, too?
“Wer” is presented as a traditional movie, but is shot in a handheld style and supplemented with surveillance feeds to give it a “found footage” feel without actually being a “found footage” film. This is perfect for all those moviegoers who want the nauseating perspective of shaky, quick-zoom camerawork without a justified story purpose motivating its employment.
Director/co-writer William Brent Bell treads in familiar territory with the format, having previously helmed the underwhelming “found footage” demonic possession thriller “The Devil Inside.” Following the well-known author’s adage of “write what you know” a little too faithfully, “Wer” is so similar to “The Devil Inside” (review here) that it comes close to recreating several scenes nearly shot for shot. Repeated story beats include infirmary-set medical procedures to test the afflicted patient in question, said patient throwing people around a room with seemingly supernatural force, and a conclusion culminating in the camera cutting out as a vehicle crashes. At least “Wer” has a discernable ending that does not abruptly halt on a text card directing the audience to a website.
“Wer” features several juicy bits of gore primed to make even a steel-nerved viewer flinch. However, the majority of its jolts fall into a bin of predictably planned Val Lewton stings. Tiptoeing through a darkened barn in search of the beast, one woman is startled by a stray hog bursting from the shadows. An inopportunely timed walkie-talkie squeal interrupts another whisper-quiet hunt for the creature. A rock suddenly crashes through a window while people converse calmly. The only way that “Wer” can quicken a pulse is with a cheap buzz, as its overall atmosphere simply rings hollow.
One of the few unique slants to “Wer” is the inclusion of a werewolf who razors off all of his body hair prior to his first transformation. Smooth-skinned werewolves are certainly a novelty, although it begs the question, what is the point of a werewolf without fur? Considered in light of how desperate the cast is to pretend like the creature doesn’t exist in the first place, it seems as though “Wer” is ashamed to embrace its true nature as a “wolf man” movie since it continually sweeps all related allusions under the rug.
“Wer” wants so badly to be weighed as a “realistic” take on the werewolf mythos that it ends up being unrealistic with how common conceptions are conspicuously avoided on both sides of the camera. This tactic exposes “Wer” as having the confusedly impossible goal of fashioning something fresh from parts that are not. Making its way onscreen instead is a string of increasingly dimwitted behavior and misguided plot points, which might make for unintentional amusement if the effect was not one of frustrating annoyance.
Review Score: 40