Wolves isn't your typical werewolf on-the-loose horror film. Now on VOD and in select theaters on Nov. 14, it centers on Cayden (Lucas Till of X-Men: First Class), a high school student with an emerging inner wolf who wakes to discover his parents brutally murdered. Believing himself responsible, he flees, ending up in Lupine Ridge, an isolated town on the brink of all-out war between two werewolf clans (one of which is led by Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame).
This film’s genre pedigree extends beyond its stars to the creature effects, created by Oscar winner Dave Elsey (The Wolfman, Where the Wild Things Are) and his wife Lou, and the script, penned by X-Men and Watchmen screenwriter David Hayter, who also makes his directorial debut.
Hayter recently spoke with SPINOFF about his take on the werewolf legend, including their appearance and combat style.
Spinoff Online: Has a werewolf movie been on your radar for a while?
David Hayter: It wasn't initially something I wanted to do. A producer friend asked me if I wanted to do a werewolf movie. I thought about it. I never want to take anything on unless I have a fresh take on the genre. I started to think what we had done with the X-Men movies and how I tried to tie some of those elements into reality. I came up with this idea that instead of a horror film, when somebody is turning into a monster they can't control, I thought, "What if they are turning into a monster they might be able to learn to control?" And then I thought maybe I had something that was a different take on the genre. From that point on, I got very excited. I've always loved werewolf movies, but really, American Werewolf in London is so perfect, it didn't need to be done. Like I said, I thought I could come up with a new take.
Who is Cayden, and how does he get sucked into all this werewolf mayhem?
Cayden is a kid who is exceptional and popular and has everything going for him. But he has this thing looming inside him. He's unaware he's been born with it. When it starts to rear its head, it blows his life to pieces. That was very similar to my experience in high school. I felt for him quite a bit and I really wanted to put him through something fairly dire to get him out on the road.
Jason Momoa seems like a no-brainer to play the alpha wolf, Connor.
Well, he's 6’5 and over a quarter of a ton of muscle, so that helps. Plus, he's Jason Momoa, so that helps as well. Jason is obviously a remarkable physical specimen, as well as being an exceptionally good actor with a very compelling presence. Being around him is very much like being in Connor's pack. You sort of trail around in his gravity. He's such a rough-and-tumble guy. He's very physical.
There aren't many films that feature a werewolf community and hierarchy.
There are a lot of things I don't think we've seen in werewolf movies. The werewolf movie tends to go from the perspective of this creature you turn into, which is an ugly, hairy, wild out-of-control monster. That's not what wolves are. I really tried to dig into what it would be like to have the DNA of a wolf. Wolves are quiet, sleek, beautiful creatures that mate for life. They have a very well-structured pack hierarchy. They don't veer from that. They do share a lot of human traits. Really, what I tried to do was show the wolf side is almost your better nature in the end. It's your human side – your greed, envy or lust – that cause the wolf to go out of control.
How did you approach the wolves' fighting styles?
I'm big into fighting and fight styles, so I'm always aware when a director employs Chinese kung fu or Japanese karate and how they shoot things. I love a beautifully executed fight sequence and we have these amazing fight coordinators on board. They created these fights for me, which were at first a lot more acrobatic and a lot more martial arts-infused. I said, "OK, there is no karate or judo wolf," which they don't really do, but they are used to relying on for some of those moves. I tried to limit that and say, "If you were a human/wolf hybrid, you would fight with your instinct, your speed, your body weight, your claws and your feet. It's a lot more like football. It's a lot of high-impact, very brutal stuff. The guys really ate that up and we defined some fights that are pretty painful to watch.
There's a moment where Cayden viciously bites Connor, which was purely animalistic.
Frankly, if you were fighting a dude that big, you might have to do it as human beings too. You do whatever you can to survive. Of course, a wolf's teeth are very important to their battle strategy. I loved that moment too because I love Jason's reaction. He's outraged. I tried to put a lot of little moments like that in, or slashes. Something that would just be a slap in the face with normal human beings becomes a really brutal move when you have these razor claws.
What kind of discussions did you have with Dave and Lou about the werewolf designs and makeup?
I wanted to avoid some of the traps that are inherent in this particular creature. I wanted them sleek and beautiful and elegant in the way that actual wolves are, not hairy and wild and out of control. Wolves are like cats. They are very beautiful creatures. I didn't want long straight nails, because it looks a little bit like a transvestite. I didn't want snouts on the actors that would just look like a big nose. I didn't want the elf ears pointing straight up, so you'll see the ears are all angled back. When a wolf is angry, their ears are laid back against their head and point backwards. That gave the head a sleek look. All these decisions, Dave and Lou and I went through and experimented with things. Of course, being the master monster makers that they are, eventually I just let them roll and they created some beautiful work.
Does being independently financed force you to be more resourceful?
It definitely forces you into more creative decisions. For example, there's a scene where Cayden leads the savage pack to the barn. We had a whole sequence in there where Cayden was inside the barn while the bombs were going off. We just weren't going to be able to pull it off given the time and the amount of work it was going to take to get it done. My DP, Gavin Smith, said, "Once they get inside, why doesn't Cayden just shut the door and lock it and then blow up the barn?" "Oh, my God. That's brilliant." It doesn't cost anything, and story-wise, it works just as well. You are forced to come up with these decisions many times on the day while you're in the middle of shooting. I've worked on big, big movies as well. There's a certain joy in knowing you can't throw money at the problem and take the extra time you need, or just create it in a computer. That takes some of the pressure off.
The real joy of filmmaking is coming up with an idea on the fly, which you can pull off, that is affordable and just as creatively cool as whatever you can do with the computer. And it is a hybrid between a studio film and an independent. It's independently financed, but it's about a $15 million budget. We roughly spent on our creatures what you would spend on a big movie.
You also got a lot of bang for your buck by filming so much on location around Toronto.
That was the other thing. I thought since this creature is tied to nature, and because we didn't have a huge amount of money, and I know the area around Toronto because I grew up there, I said, "Let's find some amazing vistas and use the land to give us scope."
Switching gears, Marvel's cinematic universe has exploded since you penned a Black Widow movie script. How much of your version is still in play?
I have no idea. I don't know. I haven't discussed it with Marvel.
What do you love about the character?
I was introduced to her in the Daredevil comic books, the Frank Miller run. There's a great freedom to Natasha. She's so tough and worldly and so smart. Because she's not in her Mother Russia, she's the ultimate free-agent spy. Natasha is obviously at the top of her game in that world. There's a great joy and freedom in that character. Of course, she has a weighted backstory and things she has to deal with. However, it's really nice to see a female character who is so capable and unique in her upbringing. There's a lot to the character.
In your mind, what elements are essential for a Black Widow adventure?
Oh, intrigue, personal pain, lots and lots of turns and betrayals. It's about espionage. You have to look at what she is. If the theme is "Black Widow," then this is somebody who is able to lurk in the darkness and see things from a perspective we can't see and is extremely dangerous when confronted. All those elements should be present. And she should be super-sexy and wear an awesome costume.
The Marvel Universe is quite cohesive these days. Which characters would you want to incorporate?
Ideally, I would want to incorporate Daredevil. I was such a fan. The characters I mostly associate with her are the Avengers. She did some things with Spider-Man, but those are the big ones.