Werewolves Within review: the classic party game becomes a bloody horror movie

Sam Richardson is a pleasure. He’s engaging as Richard T. Splett on Veep, cheerfully expecting his dad’s death so he can acquire the splett1@splettnet.net e-mail address. He’s funny as a gamer on Tim Robinson’s much-memed sketch-comedy series I Believe You Need To Leave, chewing out infants and assisting Ebenezer Scrooge in a sci-fi spin on A Christmas Carol. And he’s captivating as forest ranger Finn in the regularly amusing, unevenly paced scary funny Werewolves Within, which swaps out the middle ages place of its computer game origins in favor of a snowy town (à la the cult classic Phantoms) and Trump-era humor about undesirables and Antifa.

Those latter aspects age a movie that at its finest seems like a cross in between the 1987 vampire movie The Lost Boys and the 2002 and 2004 live-action Scooby-Doo movies, and at its worst stumbles through one foreseeable character interaction after another. And for finest and worst, it likewise seems like the video game that generated Ubisoft’s computer game Werewolves Within: the traditional social-deduction parlor game Monster, where a group of unlucky villagers attempt to discover the beast in their middle as it plans to eliminate them off one by one.

Directed by Scare Me’s Josh Ruben, composed by debuting film writer Mishna Wolff, and produced by Ubisoft Movie & Tv, Werewolves Within is embeded in the little mountain town of Beaverfield. It starts with an attack beyond the snow-covered, Ignore Hotel-evoking Beaverfield Inn. A guy is knocked off his feet, slashed apart, and dragged into the woods. Almost a month later on, forest ranger Finn (Richardson) drives into town while listening to self-affirmation audiobooks that motivate him to stop “being nice for no reason,” and get more in touch with his manly side. That’s a challenging request for Finn, who is courteous, accommodating, and mainly nonconfrontational. The only thing that truly outrages him is when individuals disrespect nature, so when he satisfies Midland Gas representative Mr. Parker (Wayne Duvall), he’s right away distrustful.

Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén huddle together outdoors, clutching flashlights, in Werewolves Within

Image: Sabrina Lantos/IFC Movies

Parker wishes to purchase out the whole town for a gas pipeline, and his only holdouts are Beaverfield Inn owner Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), whose hubby just recently left her, and couple Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and Joaquim (Harvey Guillén), whose liberal politics and tech-earned millions make them Parker’s opponents.

Beaverfield has plenty of eccentrics, and wacky, ironical mail provider Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) — with whom Finn feels an instant stimulate — provides to reveal him around. Each of Finn’s meet-and-greets follows a specific rhythm: The stars’ efficiencies are over the top, whether accentuated, impacted, or both, and Finn stammers and falters through bemused pleasantries prior to moving onto the next. On the side of Midland Gas are mechanic Gwen (Sarah Burns), her hubby Marcus (George Basil), full-on Karen Trisha Anderson (Michaela Watkins) and her handsy hubby Pete (Michael Chernus), who own the town’s maple-syrup farm.

More uncertain in regards to their alliances are off-the-grid survivalist Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler), who drapes himself in wolf pelts and embellishes his house with all sort of animal skeletons, and ecologist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), who hardly leaves the inn space where she’s running a variety of science experiments. She keeps unnerving everybody by calmly turning up in the middle of other individuals’s discussions and sneaking around corners.

The Beaverfield population is little, however a complex tangle of animosities and petty complaints connects its residents together. And when they assemble on the inn due to the fact that of a snowstorm that knocks out the town’s power, mysterious things begin to take place. Who, or what, eliminated and consumed Trisha’s pet? Whose body does Finn discover under the inn’s deck? What triggered the huge gouging slashes in the generators around town? Can Finn “man up” and figure this all out? And did somebody truly simply state the word “werewolf”?

In 2016, Werewolves Within put a networked spin on the familiar parlor game, simply as Amongst United States carried out in 2018. Werewolves Within gamers sign up with VR video games, are designated secret functions like “watcher,” “gossip,” and “deviant,” and need to deduce the identity of the monster. Winning in the computer game includes either properly recognizing and eliminating the monster, or making it through as the monster. However in the motion picture variation of Werewolves Within, the story is focused exclusively on the previous alternative. The pacing is another frustrating difference between the two formats. While the video game is meant to move quickly, cycling through players as they defend themselves or attack others, Werewolves Within spends nearly an hour on all that village setup. That leaves only half an hour or so for the actual whodunnit and werewolf stuff, and in that compressed time frame, the film’s conclusion feels abrupt.

Before then, Werewolves Within relies a fair amount on suggestion and allusion, as well as its characters’ goofy antics and constant bickering. Just as he relied heavily on sound and suggestion in Scare Me, Ruben lets viewers hear echoing growls and heavy footsteps rather than seeing the figure responsible for them. He shows the townspeople’s horrified reactions to the mauled body Finn finds rather than seeing the corpse itself. Those are all routine B-motion picture elements, but Ruben and Wolff avoiding explicit creature-feature action certainty means the few scary moments successfully land.

Seven of Werewolves Within’s cast members huddle together nervously, clutching lanterns

Photo: Sabrina Lantos/IFC Films

The dialogue is less effective, though, mainly because Wolff dates it so thoroughly with an array of pop-culture details (Ace of Base, kombucha, Mr. Rogers) and obvious allusions to Trump’s America (“liberal snowflakes,” “lock her up”). Simply repeating references that audiences will recognize is not humor. And certain characters, in particular Dr. Ellis and Parker, are little more than poorly drawn nods to 1980s horror-movie tropes.

Werewolves Within (which would make a solid double-header with the 2019 Irish horror comedy Extra Ordinary) is at its best when it just lets Richardson flicker in between the array of guileless reactions that have now become part of his comedic persona: a little naïve, a little befuddled, a little jolly, and finally, a little pissed off. He handles most of the comedic heavy lifting, with squinting disbelief at Trisha’s “Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?” during their first meeting, increasingly unnerved exclamations of “Heavens to Betsy!” as he tracks the monster’s path through town, and shock at his own use of the word “fuck.”

And during the movie’s final minutes, which put a spin on the scary’s final-girl cliches, Richardson’s agreeable acceptance of his own ignorance emphasizes the effectiveness of the movie’s main “Who’s the werewolf?” secret. Richardson’s job is to play off everybody else’s broadness, and his ease in doing so smooths over the rougher spots of Werewolves Within.

Werewolves Within opens in a minimal theatrical work on June 25 and is readily available for digital leasing on July 2.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.