The horror-comedy genre is a sadly overlooked and undersupplied one. To me, most horror movies have a comedy element to them amidst all the blood and gore, and true comedy-horror movies are among my favourite type of film. So when one comes along featuring Werewolves, one of the coolest monsters around, and based on a video game I’m pretty excited. Werewolves Within is a 96-minute whodunnit romp that’s a surprisingly good time that’s fairly light on the horror but strong on the comedy and charm. And with a critic score of 86% and an audience score of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s one of the highest-rated video game adaptions ever.
Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) arrives in the rural town of Beaverfield to take on the role of Ranger. There he meets up with Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) the local courier who gives him the Beaverfield tour and introduces to the insane collection of locals that make up this little town’s community. Of course, as the name implies this place in the middle of nowhere is facing a serious problem, a problem that opens the movie by stalking and killing Dave Sherman, the cheating husband of Innkeeper Jeanine Sherman. Before long the power is out, a landslide has shut down the only road into town and the residents of Beaverfield realise that one of them is a werewolf. Things are going to get hairy.
Werewolves Within is actually an adaption of a Ubisoft game of the same name, a VR title where you and a bunch of people sit down and argue about who among you is a bloodthirsty killer that could do with brushing its damn teeth. This VR game is based upon an actual physical game named Mafia which was created in the 80s before mutating into Werewolf, in which people do the exact same thing but without headsets strapped onto their skulls. If you can gather up enough people Werewolf/Mafia is a hilarious game to play that will forge friendships or cause you all to find the nearest point object and threaten the closest player with it.
With that said, the relationship between Werewolves Within the game and Werewolves Within the movie is a tenuous one at best. The medieval village has been replaced by a remote modern town filled with over-the-top characters arguing over whether a proposed pipeline would be good for the town. If the Ubisoft logo didn’t flash up during the movie’s opening credits, you would have no inclination that Werewolves Within was based upon any existing IP.
Finn is the heart and soul of the movie, practically radiating niceness like a nuclear politeness reactor. If he got torn to shreds and eaten by a werewolf his ghost would probably apologise to it for any heartburn his flesh might cause it. He just wants to be a decent guy who helps people out, but that also means he can be a pushover, afraid of confrontation. His former girlfriend trampled all over him and even ended the relationship without him knowing it, claiming that his new job in Beaverfield and the distance it brings between them might be good for the relationship. It takes Cecily to point out to him that is relationship is over, deader than the corpses that will soon be turning up.
Cecily acts as Finn’s love interest, as well as being a bouncing ball of quirky energy and personal tour-guide of Beaverfield for the audience. Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub have solid chemistry, although it translates more as a friendly vibe than anything romantic like the movie is aiming for. I never quite bought into their budding relationship, which is a shame. Still, when they’re together on-screen it’s a lot of fun.
I like that it tries to make everyone at least slightly suspicious. Marcus, for example, likes to scratch at his ears like a dog and has a messy, scruffy look. Both he and his girlfriend Gwen (George Basic and Sarah Burn)s seem to enjoy a spot of violence and both are jumpy, making them prime werewolf candidates. The tech-millionaire couple (Harvey Guillen and Cheyenne Jackson) who just moved to town? Well, their last name is literally Wolfson. Cecily is the 7th born, which one character points out makes her a werewolf according to many Latin American traditions. Jeanine’s (Catherine Curtin) cheating husband mysteriously vanished, casting doubts on the otherwise warm and welcoming woman who runs the local Inn. Emerson (Glenn Fleshler) is a loner who lives outside of town and dresses in wolf pelts. Then there’s Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) who is trying to convince the town to allow his pipeline to be built, a topic dividing the locals. And…well, you get the point. Even Finn gets a bit of suspicion cast on him, although I feel like if Finn was a werewolf he’d be curled up at the foot of someone’s bed and bringing them their slippers.
It’s a strong cast without a single weak performance. Everybody seems to be having a good time, too. There’s the right amount of ham and cheese in the characters and performances that really suits the movie’s fun tone. Standouts include the Wolfson’s (“Are we really in a Mexican stand-off right now?” “Oh, honey, just say stand-off.”) and Dr. Ellis being constantly weird. Writer Mishna Wolff does a great job of giving everyone memorable, funny lines as well as playing with stereotypes in a fun way.
So, with everyone being the possible killer mutt will you guess the real culprit in this whodunnit? Well, if you consider yourself even slightly knowledgeable in movies and especially horror flicks then, yes, you probably will. I guessed early and got it right because of a couple of reasons, although I won’t mention them in case it gives the game away if you watch the film. The key to an excellent whodunnit mystery, to me, is you should be able to rewatch the movie and pick up on subtle hints throughout. A reveal that comes completely out of left-field is the worst thing. Want some good examples? Go watch Knives Out, an excellent murder manor film that builds a cast of characters while planting clues everywhere, and then compare it to something like Now You See Me, where the big twist/reveal was impossible to figure out using actual logic. Werewolves Within gets it mostly right, so if you think back on the movie or rewatch it there are enough clues to make the mystery feel logical.
What I will say is that the reveal and the finale are both somewhat lacking. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that in a werewolf film you get to eventually see the werewolf. And when you do see the beast it’s underwhelming, although I don’t want to judge the film harshly for this. Werewolves are a hard thing to portray on-screen; you either have to use CGI which can look terrible without a good budget behind it, or go the practical route which is far from easy. In this case, Werewolves Within mostly goes the hair human with claws and contact lenses route, and the well-lit environment and lingering shots do nothing to hide the basic look of the monster. Ah well.
As for the finale, I admit to feeling like it lacked a real sense of danger, making the werewolf seem less like a monster and more like a dog. Horror-comedy or not, I like my werewolves to feel like powerhouses of death. A good example would be Dog Soldiers, a low-budget horror featuring a group of soldiers on a training exercise in the Scottish highlands who find themselves under siege by lycanthropes.
With that said, while the ending left me a bit deflated I did enjoy a couple of decisions that were made about the werewolf. I can’t mention them here but I do intend on doing a spoiler-discussion podcast, so if you want to find out more you can listen to that.
I was a tad surprised when the movie changed direction slightly. With a storm coming in and everyone gathered at the inn it seemed likely the movie would try to emulate the game and keep everyone in that location so they could point fingers, make accusations and inevitably be picked off one by one. But this section of the movie didn’t last long before everyone pulled a Scooby-Doo and split up, possibly in search of some Scooby-Snacks. Part of me thinks that keeping the group together would have been better, but then for the movie to execute its plan they had to separate. Plus, it’s probably hard to keep a werewolf hidden in a small building.
I have to admit, though, I do prefer my horror-comedies a little gorier. Werewolves Within plays it quite safe, earning itself a very modest R rating with minimal blood and guts, which is slightly at odds with the whole werewolf thing. Lycanthropes are messy killers and have atrocious table-manners after all, or so I assume *cough.*
In the end, Werewolves Within gave me a few good laughs and was entertaining across almost all of its 96-minute runtime. It doesn’t reach the heights of the likes of Tucker & Dale vs Evil or something like What We Do In The Shadows, but I reckon most horror-comedy fans will have a good time. It’s clearly a movie made with a lot of love and passion. As director Josh Ruben said, “This movie is a tribute to those of us who are resolute that good conquers evil, and that “being good” is the best weapon we’ve got, against guns, knives, even claws… Sometimes, you just
gotta be a good neighbor, no matter how wicked people are.”
And the Wolf Gods know we don’t have a lot of horror-comedy to choose from, so any new, solid movie deserves support. This one gets a recommendation from me if you’re a lover of comedy-horror, werewolves or whodunnits.