MARCH 22, 2011
I never understand the folks who get angry when a movie is made from a book and things are changed. The book's still there, and whether someone loves or hates the movie you can say "the book is different/better", so it's kind of win-win. All I care about is if the movie is good, and, if I KNOW it's a book beforehand, do I spend the entire movie feeling like I've been handicapped because I didn't do the reading beforehand. The 6th Harry Potter film, for example, was the first time that I felt not reading the corresponding book beforehand was leaving me at a disadvantage (I had only read the first three). Likewise, I spent a lot of my time watching The Beast Within wondering how much better/coherent the book was.
It seems like the movie is missing most of its first act. After the prologue, in which we see the female lead being raped (mostly suggested) by a beast/monster of some sort, we flash forward 17 years, where the product of that rape is in the hospital for some illness. It almost seems like he had been there his entire life, because we never got even a single scene of him awake and living his normal day. But that is not the case, he had just fallen ill recently. Anyway, his parents travel to the town where the rape occurred to find some answers (glad they finally got around to that), and a short time after that, the kid wakes up and escapes the hospital, only to go to the same town, a coincidence no one seems particularly surprised by. And so it goes, racing from one plot point to the next in its first 20-25 minutes...
...and then it just sputters to a crawl. There's no mystery to who the killer is - it's the son, who is exhibiting classic movie werewolf behavior (though he bites the neck and seemingly enjoys blood, which is more of a vampire move), i.e. getting angry and lashing out at the drop of a hat, profusely sweating, and displaying abnormal strength when killing folks. Instead, the mystery is why he is killing these particular people, which you'd think would be something his father (Ronny Cox) would go about trying to solve. Instead, he just tags along with the cops for the entire movie, finding corpses along with them, nodding along when someone else offers some insight to the sheriff, and finally standing around with a gun during the movie's climax. I like Cox, but seriously this is the least heroic hero in movie history, and after a while I just started wondering why the cops kept allowing him to walk onto crime scenes and such with them, because A. he wasn't a cop and B. he wasn't doing a goddamn thing anyway.
But the real problem is, again, never spending any time with these folks before things started getting bad. The key to any "guy slowly becoming a monster" movie is caring about him prior to the accident or incident that caused him to be that way, but the movie doesn't bother with any of that. Hell at one point he meets up with a girl and it took me half the movie to realize that they didn't already know each other, because they instantly become each other's closest friend. Where are his friends from before he got sick? What was his life like before this? Did he ever question the circumstances of his birth? All of these things would have helped make the story more compelling, but there's nothing of the sort to be found.
I was also surprised (not in an entirely good way) how un-batshit it was, considering that it was directed by Howling II/III maestro Philippe Mora, who sadly kept his insanity in check for the most part. This movie NEEDED some of his silliness, but apart from the overlong and ridiculous transformation scene (where everyone just stands there in minor horror as our young "hero" turns into a cicada (?), waiting until he starts attacking to finally move or do anything to help), it's crushingly straightforward and coherent.
At least it's well made. Apart from some occasionally puzzling editorial decisions (like when the killer is hiding under a morgue sheet as his victim, thinking it's someone playing a prank, seeks him - and he cuts to show us which one the guy is under, botching the scare), the movie is well put together, and the 2.35 imagery is solid. It looks more like a 70s film, actually, which is fine by me. On that note, the score is a bit like an overly dramatic 1950s horror score, but I assume that was the intention, and thus it worked. The FX are also better than I expected (I've honestly never heard of this movie until today), the one saving grace to the ridiculously long transformation scene is that the extra time spent looking closely at the changing effects doesn't reveal too many flaws in the process (really dug the bulging head stuff). The kills aren't too impressive for the most part, but there's a good head ripping near the end, and the gunshot wounds in the hospital scene also hold up nicely.
But it's just all weightless. I didn't care enough about the kid to feel sympathetic when he started turning into a were-cicada, and Cox wasn't given enough to do (literally or figuratively) to make his character's rather depressing arc (a guy who loves a son that's not really his is forced into a situation where he might have to kill him) compelling - if it was an unknown actor in the role (he was the only one in the movie I recognized), I probably wouldn't have cared about him at all. It's sort of ironic; all of these movies sort of crib from The Wolf Man, but I think this is the first I've seen that took the whole "Father has to put down his son" angle, which should have been a bonus as it's one of the less-copied elements and thus should have been welcome. But like everything else in this movie, it just felt underdeveloped and fruitless.
In short: I haven't read it, but the book is better.
What say you?
NOTE: Two days later I saw a new interview with Holland and he reveals that there actually IS no book, the author fell behind and never actually published (wrote?) it, but they left in the "Based on Novel by" credit to sort of cover themselves just in case. So most of my review is based on incorrect assumptions; it's just sort of messy by design. Well, his writing skills certainly improved after this.