The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf review: Vesemir’s bloody origin story

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, Photo Courtesy: Netflix
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, Photo Courtesy: Netflix /

While we oh-so-patiently wait for the season 2 premiere of Netflix’s hit series The Witcher (based on the video games of the same name, which in turn were based on a series of short stories by Polish novelist Andrzej Sapkowski). the streaming giant dropped its latest installment in the Witcher franchise: The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

The anime film follows a young Vesemir as he goes through the Witcher trials and learns firsthand what it means to be a monster hunter – the film’s spirited vocal performances and gory action will surely satisfy any Witcher fan looking to learn more about this pivotal character and the history of the Witchers.

Starring Theo James, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf follows cocky young Witcher Vesemir (James), whose main interests are coin, wine, and more coin. When he runs afoul of a powerful witch named Tetra (Laura Pulver) Vesemir finds himself entrenched in a decades-long conspiracy to rid the world of Witchers once and for all. Along the way, he discovers dark secrets about the origin of his own kind from mentor Deglan (Graham McTavish) and reunites with old flame Lady Zerbst (Mary McDonnell).

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is without question a film made almost exclusively for pre-existing fans of The Witcher franchise, and it has no qualms about diving headfirst into the action without spending much time establishing characters or large chunks of the world’s (sizable) lore. While a non-fan would certainly still be able to follow the narrative, the significance of the events as they relate to the main Witcher series would likely be lost – names like Vesemir, Filavandrel, and yes, Geralt are frequently and casually tossed around, but without knowledge of the series or games, why we should care about those names isn’t really explored.

Instead, the film assumes the audiences’ familiarity, and as such, focuses more on giving much-needed insight into the past of Geralt’s stony mentor: Vesemir who, as it turns out, was a rambunctious Witcher in his youth, not entirely unlike his future trainee Lambert. Though the “hero learns saving the day is more about doing good than it is about money” narrative is nothing new and relatively trite, the story still works here, thanks in large part to James’ spirited vocal performance.

The other big draw here is the action – which keeps The Witcher franchise’s tradition of gory, brutal, no-holds-barred fight scenes and incorporates the quick, fast-paced anime fighting style, resulting in a number of visual delights and clever uses of camerawork. Tetra’s magic is also used to significant effect, providing a stark contrast to the more grounded, earthy tones of the rest of the film’s palette.

The plot itself is nothing new – most Witcher fans will already be familiar with the brutality of the trials and the revelation that the majority of trainees die before their transformation is complete – but seeing the torturous acts brought to life with often haunting animation helps bring the reality of an already disturbing but intangible concept to life.

The film’s most interesting reveal – that some Witchers themselves are behind the creation of the monsters they kill – is a fascinating concept perhaps deserving of a little more screen time, but as the film stands, the hour and twenty-minute runtime is perfectly suitable for the relatively unambitious narrative being told here: a one-off quest peppered with looks into Vesemir’s history via flashback.

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf relies heavily on its audience’s pre-established knowledge of characters and events, but assuming you’re clicking ‘play’ knowing your Strigas from your Kikimoras, Nightmare of the Wolf is a gory, well-acted glimpse at Vesemir’s past.

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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is now streaming on Netflix.