Werewolves Within is a horror-comedy-thriller that follows a group of college students as they stumble upon a monster in their small town. A werewolf.
“Werewolves Within” is a film that blends horror, family, and small town life into a delightful, scary, and, yes, funny adventure. At times the film seems like the result of a collaboration between “Murder on the Orient Express” director Kenneth Branagh and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” showrunner Joss Whedon . The film opens with a group of four teenagers on a drive to a cabin in the woods. The teens are on trial for the murder of the local high school principal, and they have been charged with the murder of a classmate. These teens, though, are no ordinary teens. They are werewolves.
It took me too long to find a name referring to Olympia’s black metal band Wolves In The Throne Room, and the best I got was Wolves in the Hotel Room, so…. let’s move on.
Werewolves Within is the kind of self-aware, deadpan horror comedy of its own making that has become increasingly rare over the years. Unknowingly, this film is based on an existing indie video game published by Ubisoft, which is less surprising when the film starts to take shape; with its night of strange murders and its various suspects. And also because it plays with social rejection and distrust, which is a basic experience of games like this or Obsession from last year among us.
There’s a new sheriff in town (not literally, he’s just the new ranger) named Finn, played by Sam Richardson, who you might recognize from Veep or a dozen other TV comedy roles. We meet him here on rare occasions during a long car trip, with an audiobook on self-improvement, and in a seemingly shaky marriage. He found a new job in a city far from home. He arrives in the small logging town of Beaverfield. A seemingly charming and reasonably comfortable place, but the night he arrives, his victims are brutally slaughtered by something or someone. A walk along one of the many snowy trails leads you to a local inn, a small business run by a recently widowed woman. It became a temporary refuge for Finn and the rest of the group.
With him at the hotel live all sorts of characters, including the postal worker Cecily, played by Milana Weintrub (for whom I admittedly have a probable bias, as I’ve had a crush on her for a few years now). She is very charming and you can tell she really understands the tone and the way she says her lines. The scenes with her and Sam are a highlight of the film. Richardson does well in the lead role, but doesn’t stand out too much. Involuntarily, I was reminded of Jim Cummings’ Wolf of Snow Hollow from last year, who (love him or hate him) certainly brings a lot to his films with his absurdly loud cartoon characters.
To the film’s credit, for the most part it’s pretty hard to determine who the culprit is, even if some personalities suggest it to others. You can tell that director Josh Reuben has a gift for balancing humor and horror, and it’s a pleasure to immerse yourself in the violence that builds up in his concept.
The rest of the cast ranges from humorous to forgettable – it’s hard not to wish there was a more colorful group of characters. They are all defined by their political views (and openly admit it), which reminds me of the movie Knives Out. But if people find comments about the Reddit era and the culture war in this movie boring, then this movie will probably bore them too. Of course, that didn’t bother me at all, but what did bother me was that neither the script nor the direction did anything to lift these characters above the caricatures they all are. A political witch hunt touts an oil pipeline that a local businessman wants to run through the woods; the idea is both thematically subtle and half-baked, really nothing more.
The plot, with Sam’s character taking a job away from his wife and their marriage clearly divided, provided some light comedy, but it also felt underdeveloped. Perhaps the hope for a richer dramatic plot or more character development is too high an expectation for a bold werewolf thriller, but Werewolves Inside lacks second gear. It’s just witty dialogue and fun violence piling up, which may be enough for some. There also seemed to be a real opportunity for more visual comedy and sparkle in this material, but the film did the opposite by removing any real set pieces, fun and dynamic camera work, or visual gags. This is probably due to the limited budget – even though this is Reuben’s highest budget film to date, there is a glaring lack.
Again, it’s fair to say that this is all about equal to many modern comedies. But this was a chance to let that material shine with better comic characters and energetic direction. Werewolves Within is exactly what you imagine when you read this, namely a very entertaining but certainly not remarkable film.
Follow @MovieBabble_ on Twitter and Giancarlo @filmispain.
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