The process of making a movie is a long and, often, exhausting one. No matter the budget allocated for a film, the screenwriter spends time and energy putting words to paper; the casting director auditions numerous people for the various roles; set and production artists create the look of the locations and world the movie takes place in; an editor spent many a night assembling the footage; and so on.
Therefore, when a movie is released after going through all the stages of production and is not good or particularly fun, it is not for lack of effort, which brings us to the independently produced, goofy lark known as Grandma Werewolf. Written and directed by Zachary Will, making his feature-length debut, the amusingly titled movie is inept on most fronts.
The movie follows divorced dad Hank (James Wosochlo) and his two children, Kate (America Ramos) and Ben (Trevor Brooks) as they go to Grandma’s (Tricia Harmon) for Thanksgiving dinner. Having just sat down to eat, Grandma decides that since grandpa is now dead, she should inform her family that she is a werewolf. At first, her son and grandkids think she must be joking, but shortly after her announcement, Grandma transforms. She escapes into the night to wreak havoc and hunt.
The kids find their grandpa’s old diary, which details ways in which he kept his wife at bay while she was a wolf. It also discusses the mysterious Master (Wayne Shearer), who is a master of magic and can teach Hank the proper spells to stop Grandma’s werewolf attacks. Also, on the trail of the werewolf is a hunter (Thomas Sigurdsson) and detectives Carl (Dan Eash) and Jared (Chris Naples). Can the family stop Grandma in time or will the cops get to her first? Alternatively, will the hunter kill his prey?
“…since grandpa is now dead, she should inform her family that she is a werewolf.”
The positives first, because there are a few. Trevor Brooks and America Ramos are having fun and feel like real siblings. Harmon as the grandma is sweet and wholesome, so her transformation into the creature works well enough. Finally, the actors playing the two cops are delightful in every sense. They play off each other well, have excellent comedic timing, and steal every scene that features them.
Sadly, that’s where anything good that can be said about Grandma Werewolf ends. As Hank, Wosochlo is truly terrible. His line readings are stilted and inauthentic. He fails to make this character real or exciting or even seem like a human being. Sigurdsson is fine enough, yet his character is pointless. He literally does nothing to further the plot or the actions of the central family. His role only pads out the already punishing 90-minute runtime.
This unneeded character takes away time from the things that should have been focused on. Grandpa dies in the first scene of the movie and states that being married to her was “worth the trouble.” The audience does not know grandma, grandpa, or their relationship together, so this means nothing to them. Why not cut out the useless hunter (billed as Sniper because dumb is dumb) and give a brief prologue to get the audience to invest in Grandma and her supernatural curse? As it stands, Grandma has had maybe 10 minutes of screen time before she becomes a werewolf, so the audience doesn’t care.
Even worse though is the look of the werewolf itself. The mask Harmon wears is cheap latex, which works for a penny-pinching Halloween costume but not for a full-length movie. Creature features made on a smaller budget can make their limited resources work to their advantage. Take the Thanksgiving cult classic Thankskilling for example. Grandma Werewolf and it share a lot in common- both films look like they were shot with a camera you’d buy at a department store, both creatures are made of latex (or rubber, or similar material), they each have a screwball internal logic and use non-sequitur style comedy to their own means.
The critical difference is how the filmmakers approached their material. Thankskilling glosses over its limitations by not having its creature be the center of attention. The hand puppet turkey is featured prominently from the time he first appears until the end of the movie. However, the focus of its scenes are the outrageous kills and even more outthere puns the turkey says. Thus, the audience is aware of the production’s lower tier, but that is not what they are thinking about. Their attention is on the viscera and jokes.
“The Master…has them do a bunch of chores such as washing his car and doing his laundry…just out for free labor.”
Grandma Werewolf does not go down a similar everything and the kitchen sink route. The flat direction and sparse set designs call stark attention to whatever meager visual elements are on display. Thus, when the lighting isn’t too dark (a semi-common occurrence), and the werewolf mask can be seen, it is the only interesting thing to look at on screen. Why bring more attention to one of the worst looking elements in the film?
Not helping matters is what passes for jokes in Grandma Werewolf. When Hank and Ben finally meet The Master, he has them do a bunch of chores such as washing his car and doing his laundry. The father and son think this is some sort of Mr. Miyagi situation, but nope, The Master is just out for free labor. That is all there is; one single joke about someone we barely know being lazy. This wastes several minutes of the viewer’s time. Sadly, this is one of the only actual jokes I can pinpoint in the movie. There are a few slapstick gags involving the cops, but despite the lighthearted tone, there is a lack of fun to be had.
Such a lack of fun is due to the awful writing. When Grandma tells her family that she is a werewolf, it is done in the least natural way possible. She merely stands up behind the dining room table and blurts it out. There is no build up to the moment, and there is no conversation happening at that moment. I don’t mean there wasn’t a conversation that naturally segued into the werewolf topic; I mean nobody was talking, so her letting the family in on her secret is just abrupt and jarring. The same thing can be said for the vast majority of the dialogue and story elements. Things happen or are said without much thought put in on how to cohesively bring these elements together.
Making a movie is tough so that Zachary Will accomplished that is impressive. However, aside from some of the cast, that is the only good thing that can be said about Grandma Werewolf. It is painfully unfunny, badly directed, poorly edited, full of extraneous characters (as much as I enjoyed the actors, the cops are not necessary), and never goes all in on the wild, jokey premise its title suggests.
Grandma Werewolf (2018) Written and directed by Zachary Will. Starring James Wosochlo, Tricia Harmon, Trevor Brooks, America Ramos, Chris Naples, Dan Eash, Wayne Shearer, Thomas Sigurdsson.
2 Full Moons (out of 10)