Werewolves Within Film review. While the bar is regrettably low, Werewolves Within stands clear of almost any video game to film adaptation to date. With Werewolves Within, Ubisoft head into movies with director Josh Ruben (who’s debut effort Scare Me was an impressive example of effective storytelling dialogue with imagination and clever visual representation) producing a comedic horror spin on the classic whodunnit formula, inspired in part by the VR game of the same name.
In the game, players are left in a remote location and have to deduce which one of them is secretly a werewolf. This serves as the template for the film’s story also, but even though there is a mystery to be solved, it takes a backseat to the interactions between a very colourful cast of characters who range from cheerfully optimistic to flat-out stupid.
Werewolves Within Film Review
Our guide for this tale is Ranger Finn Wheeler (played by Sam Richardson of Detroiters, and I Think You Should Leave fame), newly installed in the small snow-swept town of Beaverfield. There’s only a handful of residents around, but there’s an ongoing battle between them over a proposed gas pipeline, with some eager to sell for a big payout and others fiercely opposed to their isolated home being stripped of the beauty of nature. Finn is guided around town by a fellow newcomer in postal worker Cecily, who feels like the only likable person of the lot to Finn.
Before Finn can even get settled into his room at the local Inn, a snowstorm escalates to the point of seemingly knocking out the power for the whole town, which causes the locals to descend upon the Inn, looking for answers. Unfortunately for them, not only is the power out, but the only road in or out is buried by the snow. Oh, and there’s a dead body outside, seemingly mauled by a wild beast.
As the evidence begins to mount and the attacks escalate, it becomes clear that there is a lycanthrope among them. So begins a madcap race against time to find out who is eating the rest of the town, and if they have ulterior motives for doing so. Comedy is the key part of this genre cocktail, with a cast more than capable of bringing out the weird and wacky in their respective roles. Richardson’s needy Ranger Wheeler holds things together with a genuine belief of finding the good in everyone (that is sorely tested by the residents of Beaverville).
His ‘flaw’ of being too willing and nice has repeatedly got him into dire straits with his working life and his relationship, hence his arrival in this less-than-idylic rural town. There’s a running joke about Mr. Rogers right from the opening quote of the film, and Richardson personifies the attitude of the late, great man, but with emotional baggage that makes him more believable as an everyman.
Without Richardson’s performance, the constant stream of quips, one-liners, and deliberately dumb dialogue from the town’s residents wouldn’t work nearly as well. The residents include Catherine Curtin’s jittery innkeeper Jeanine, snobby gay tech millionaires Joaquim and Devon, offbeat environmentalist Dr. Ellis, trashy couple Gwen and Marcus, and the man vying to buy off the residents for his gas pipeline, hunting ‘enthusiast’ Sam Parker.
The most interesting, and funny, characters however, are Milana Vayntrub’s Cecily (who has a really sweet, yet sour, energetic back and forth banter with Richardson’s Ranger Wheeler) and Michaela Watkin’s deranged, dog-obsessed wannabe store owner Trisha. In both character’s case it could be argued that they have moments of annoying behaviour. Cecily can be just a little too cute with her words, and Trisha a tad too shrill and screamy for too long, but these annoyances ultimately serve the characters best in the long run once their stories are told.
The actual plot, and the mystery itself, are very lightly written, with the film’s key intention being to get these characters together and let them go at each other with funny, offbeat, and barbed exchanges. The issue with that is that the film also has a heavy restraint on actually showing a werewolf for a large part of its runtime. So anyone going in exclusively for a film about werewolves and/or a compelling whodunnit are going to leave somewhat deflated by Werewolves Within’s relative lack of both.
And yet, those aforementioned exchanges more than make up for it. Between some fruity and spicy writing by Mishna Wolff, and the delivery of it from the likes of Richardson, Vayntrub, et al, Werewolves Within captured my attention in a similar manner to Krampus or, perhaps more accurately, Arachnophobia (which Josh Ruben has cited as a touchstone for this film). The small-town problems and eccentricities are interesting enough on their own, but when you add a creature feature element to the mix, it amplifies the writing and performances.
Perhaps Werewolves Within could have done with a few more teeth being shown on screen, and offered up a few more legitimate suspects in its murder mystery, but that carries its own risks on relatively small budget. Too much werewolf means making it menacing to observe from the off, and with the film’s tone and the actual reveal, I’m not sure the film’s design for a werewolf would have helped in earlier scenes.
Making the murder mystery too complex may well have taken away from the character work, and given these people are largely obnoxious, ignorant, and/or naïve, giving them some tough mystery to solve would feel unrealistic. The fact it seemed obvious to me who was doing the killing felt like it was intentional. Sure, a reasonable, well-adjusted person might well figure it out, but when you have a bunch of idiots with grudges, I can understand why they’d not see the woods for the trees.
I already appreciated Josh Ruben’s skills with Scare Me, which also relied heavily on its exchanges and character work, but with Werewolves Within, there’s a greater confidence to his work. It’s no the deepest snow flurry on the horror-comedy mountain, but it’s certainly one of the most fun ones to dive into.
Werewolves Within is on general release on VoD platforms from Monday, July 19 2021.
Review screener kindly provided by Ubisoft.