Netflix's 'The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf' Is a Fun as Hell Prequel Movie
The ultra-violent anime prequel adds great context to Season 1 of the live-action TV series and makes the wait for Season 2 all the more excrutiating.
The world of The Witcher is as vast as it is dense, and Season 1 of the Netflix live-action series in 2019 made it feel like we were seeing but a drop of water in an ocean of stories and mythology. Luckily, the new anime prequel Nightmare of the Wolf does an excellent job of filling in certain gaps in the story while providing an entertaining and action-packed standalone tale of its own. Whether you are a newcomer looking to dip your toes into the franchise or a longtime fan yearning for more before Season 2 finally arrives, Nightmare of the Wolf is a thrilling prequel that makes watching the live-action show better, while making the wait for Season 2 that much more painful.
Decades before Geralt turned grunting noises into a fully formed vocabulary, there was Vesemir (Theo James), a character who was mentioned only once in the live-action show, but serves an important role as Geralt's Witcher mentor and father figure. From the moment we meet him, it is clear that Nightmare of the Wolf is portraying a very, very different world than the one we see in the show. For one, this is a time where magic, monsters, and coin were aplenty. Villages are terrorized by ravaging creatures that violently and graphically maim and devour anyone in their path, while Witchers are famous protectors who also charge a pretty penny to go after said monsters.
Vesemir is far removed from the stoic, no-nonsense, white-haired Geralt. He's a swashbuckler through and through, a young man full of pride and joy, who delights himself in the praise and coin being thrown at him for being a Witcher, a striking contrast to all the insults and swords being thrown at Geralt in the live-action show. The story follows Vesemir as he discovers a strange new monster terrorizing the people of Kaedwen, a kingdom in political disarray where tensions between mages, humans, and Witchers are rising.
Rather than focus on cool fights against giant creatures, Nightmare of the Wolf throws us into the deep end of a time where people die horrible deaths, where monsters lurk in every corner ready to gouge your eyes out and crush your skull. Indeed, the anime is as much a horror as it is a fantasy film, featuring enough body horror and terrifying imagery to satisfy hardcore genre fans, while Studio Mir delivers rousing fight scenes with the kind of graphic hyper-violence that feels at home in the same streaming service that gave us four seasons of Castlevania. Make no mistake, this is a cruel show where bodies are dismembered, crushed, maimed and obliterated, and it works thanks to the fantastic animation by Mir, and because the action complements the high-thrills and dangerous world of Nightmare of the Wolf.
If you aren't familiar with The Witcher TV show, the games, or even the Andrzej Sapkowski novels, Nightmare of the Wolf does a great job introducing you to the world, allowing you to jump straight from this into Season 1 with a greater understanding of why certain things are the way they are. If you are already familiar with the premise, this is still a nifty refresher that adds valuable context to the stories we've seen play out before. Though the film tells an original story, it shows one infamous event that shaped the entire world of The Witcher but was never fully described or explored in any medium before. The film's greatest strength is the way it explores the titular Witchers, how they function not as lone mercenary warriors, but as a brotherhood. We see their ancient fortress of Kaer Morhen in its prime and even the initiation rituals that create the Witchers, while delving into the rise of the conflicts between them and regular humans, who may see them as con artists using fear and misinformation to make a quick coin.
Nightmare of the Wolf features stunning animation, with fluid action scenes and dynamic camera work, but it shines when confronting the idea of morality and asks who the true monster is. The anime prequel sets the stage for the tumultuous world we see in Season 1 of the live-action show, while also giving fans crumbs before the second season by looking back in order to understand where we are going. Though the live-action Vesemir we'll meet in the next season (played by Killing Eve's Kim Bodnia) will be older and probably a lot grimmer, the adventures of young swashbuckling Vesemir are exciting enough to make you want to toss a coin to this Witcher.