What this film is truly about is man’s hubris towards the environment and how it will eventually bite him in the ass, and in this case quite literally. Long before Global Warming became a hot button topic many people cried out against man’s treatment of the natural world, and using film or television to promote environmental political agendas was certainly nothing new, and one of the best ways to sneak that stuff to the masses was to slip it into a genre movie. So in this outing we have a former NYPD Captain Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) yanked out of retirement by his gruff boss (Dick O'Neill) to investigate a particular gruesome crime; Christopher Van der Veer (Max M. Brown), a powerful real estate magnate, and his lovely wife (Anne Marie Pohtamo) are horrible torn apart in Battery Park. Their chauffeur/bodyguard is also found dead, his hand severed yet still holding his unfired gun.
He’s either being stalked by a Wolfen or The Predator.The Wolfen-Vision is one of my bigger problems with the film, because for most of the films 114 minute running time we do not see our title creature, instead we get Evil Dead-Cam tracking shots that go on for fucking ever. Now keeping your creature’s appearances limited can be very effective, just look at how well that worked for Spielberg’s Jaws, but in the case of Wolfen we get way too many of these thermo-cam POV shots before even knowing what the creature is supposed to be. In Jaws even if you don’t see the shark we all know what a shark is and how terrifying they are, but what the hell is a Wolfen? This is not helped when we eventually see them and they look just like normal wolves.
“Oh, who’s a good boy?”I’m not saying wolves aren’t scary, if I was alone in the woods with them, and I wasn’t Liam Neeson, I’d be terrified too. But the simple fact is that wolves are really beautiful animals and plucking them into an urban environment takes much of their power away. It’s not until the third act that we get the supernatural element of these creatures explained, but what we learn wasn't worth the wait.
Note: Back when I first saw this film I assumed they were invisible as that is really the only way to explain them wandering around New York City completely unnoticed, but that turned out not to be the case. They can apparently ghost out and teleport.
During his investigation Captain Dewey Wilson, who gets partnered up with criminal psychologist Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora), first suspects that Native American militant member Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos) is involved, and it’s while interviewing him up on the high steel of a suspension bridge that the first mention of shape-shifting occurs, totally getting our hopes up. Holt tells Dewey that he can turn into many types of animal including wolves and eagles, and even tells Dewey to go jump off the bridge and flap his arms, offering the tip, “It’s all in the head.” When Dewey tails Holt that night he finds him naked at the beach acting like a wolf, but just when Dewey is going to shoot the apparently “Crazy Indian” before he can pounce on him Eddie stops cold and says, “Dewey, I told you man, it’s all in your head.” Eddie Holt was totally fucking with him. This is one of my favorite moments in the movie as it’s nice to see the “Wise Native American” having fun with the stupid white guy.