A small town gets snowed in and loses power. When the townspeople are picked off one by one, it’s up to the new ranger to determine who or what is killing everyone.
Adapted from the multiplayer game of the same name, Werewolves Within is the sophomore feature film of director Josh Ruben (Scare Me) and the debut of screenwriter Mishna Wolff. The plot focuses on Finn, a ranger who was recently relocated to the small town of Beaverfield. After a snowstorm hits, the few remaining people still living in the town become stranded with the roads snowed in and the power out. Tensions are already high with the townspeople having old feuds and mistrust, but things go from bad to worse when they realize there is a murderer ripping people to shreds. Wolff really did an exceptional job at creating a script based on the game. The comedic elements are a perfect fit with this lycanthropic twist on a whodunit. The film does a wonderful job of incorporating different twists and turns, always making the audience unsure if there is a human murderer or if it’s really a ravenous werewolf. The resulting chaos is a hilarious mystery that will keep you guessing while also keeping you laughing from start to finish.
This is a wonderful game to adapt because it is a simple idea that can go in many different directions. The filmmakers clearly had fun creating Werewolves Within, especially when it comes to the bizarre characters. Each character, perhaps with the exception of Finn and the local mail woman, Cecily, are caricatures and stereotypes. Normally that would bother me, but in the context of this film it works very well. From a sleazy pipeline tycoon to a rich yoga instructor to a conservative “Karen” to a backwoods hunter, there is a little bit of everything in Werewolves Within. Part of why these stereotypes work is that, for the most part, none of the characters are particularly likable. They’re all obnoxious in their own way, which makes the bizarre circumstances and the carnage they experience all the more humorous to watch. This is a wonderful case study on how you can create obnoxious characters that viewers will love to hate and love to watch brutally murdered.
There is a sizeable cast in Werewolves Within, and every single performance is a joy to watch. Sam Richardson (Veep, Detroiters) plays forest ranger Finn. Finn is definitely the most likable character in the film, but it’s also established very early on that he lacks backbone. Richardson is wonderful at making his character just about the nicest person to ever exist, but he really shines as Finn is forced to come into his confidence to save the town. Milana Vayntrub (This is Us), who most people will recognize as the AT&T girl, plays mail woman Cecily. Vayntrub makes Cecily seem like the most normal person in Beaverfied, yet she still has some great hilarious moments. Vayntrub and Richardson have fantastic chemistry in this film. Other standout performances come from Harvey Guillén (What We Do in the Shadows) and Michaela Watkins (The Unicorn).
While the film has an indie, low-budget feel, there is clearly a lot of thought and care that went into every artistic element. Audiences will likely immediately notice the sets. The main locations are the few businesses and houses we see in “downtown” Beaverfield, the kitschy bar that is closed for the winter, and the gorgeous old inn where Finn is staying. Everything feels very rural and perhaps a bit dilapidated, except for the inn. The Werewolves Within inn feels reminiscent of the gorgeous mansion from Knives Out, both being gorgeous old buildings that serve as the primary set for their respective whodunits. On top of that, there is wonderful use of practical effects. The filmmakers chose to keep some of the earlier gore off-screen, likely both for budgetary reasons and to build tension. As the plot progresses and the suspense builds, the audience sees more of the wonderfully done gory practical effects. At times you can feel the budget while looking at the effects, but even the cheesier effects lend to the blending of horror and comedy.
Between Wollf’s laugh-out-loud dialogue and Ruben’s unique way of combining frights and humor, Werewolves Within is one of the most fun movie-watching experiences of 2021. It is also one of the best game adaptations I’ve seen in recent years. It’s the perfect blend of murder mystery, werewolf flick, and comedy. Both Richardson and Vayntrub give the audience characters to root for, and the rest of the cast excels at creating characters we love to hate. With gorgeous sets and great practical effects, the visuals are as fun to watch as the plot itself. I highly encourage audiences try to see Werewolves Within on the big screen if you can. It’s sure to be on many best of 2021 lists at the end of the year.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10