Arriving a bit late to exploit any residual “Twilight” fever, fantasy-action programmer “Wolves” will settle for evoking still-active TV skeins “True Blood” and “Teen Wolf,” with spare echoes from “Near Dark,” “The Lost Boys” and miscellaneous other youth-skewing horror films of the the recent decades. There are certainly no fresh ideas risked in this first directorial feature by voice actor-turned-scenarist David Hayter (“X-Men,” “Watchmen”), but “Wolves” could be worse, being as fast-paced and polished on a “B” budget as it is forgettable. Getting a low-profile U.S. release amid international rollouts that started in late August, it’s unlikely to raise much theatrical dust here but should prove profitable enough in the long run via home-format sales.
One day, floppy-banged Cayden Richards (Lucas Till) is just your average star-quarterback high-school senior; the next, after some preparatory nightmares, he’s suddenly transforming into a hairy beast who assaults his girlfriend (Kaitlyn Leeb) and apparently kills his parents in a bloodthirsty frenzy. He flees town, an encounter with a similarly afflicted mysterious stranger (John Pyper-Ferguson) directing him eastward to the remote rural community meaningfully named Lupine Ridge. There, he’s taken in by a kindly farmer (Stephen McHattie), whom he eventually discovers is one of the nice “town wolves” living reluctantly under the thumb of the long-maned, periwinkle-eyed Connor Slaughter (Jason Momoa), who presides over a savage pack of redneck “hill wolves.”
Cayden’s arrival stirs tension between the lycanthropic factions, not least because it turns out he’s descended from one of the pureblood werewolf clans — his late parents were, in fact, adoptive ones — and that makes him a threat to Connor. Nor does it help matters that the two also become rivals for Angelina (Merritt Patterson), the sole cute girl in town. (That status goes uncontested by Melanie Scrofano as her sister, a comic-relief drunk with a limp.) It doesn’t take long for their big showdown to arrive, at which point pic springs its only notable twist, one connected to the aforementioned mysterious stranger.
Eschewing extensive CGI effects for actors growling and scampering around in old-school Lon Chaney Jr.-style fur-face and fangs, “Wolves” is pretty silly, though it never takes itself all that seriously. The R rating is earned with some moderate gore and a medium sex scene (in which clothes rather than flesh get shredded), yet the tone remains very much aimed at teen auds — even when Cayden has gone full snarling wolf, he retains that sensitive boyband-star forelock of blond hair.
Performances are game enough, the assembly competent if not especially stylish, with a few cheesy green-screen f/x the only glaring seams. While it’s a painless watch, “Wolves” looks comparatively bland as an adolescent male answer to Canada’s last notable bigscreen werewolf effort, the femme-focused “Ginger Snaps” franchise.