Ubisoft’s hit whodunit video game gets an equally successful big screen adaptation. Werewolves Within is a cheeky horror comedy that delights from start to finish. The film has an aw shucks, nice guy trapped in a small town with a feral killer on the loose. He’s forced to survive the night, while trying to figure out which of the oddball residents is the carnivorous culprit. Werewolves Within never takes itself too seriously. The film cleverly mashes up standard horror tropes with slick direction and perfectly-timed, humorous cast reactions.
Sam Richardson stars as Finn, an affable park ranger who’s been reassigned to the snowy mountain town of Beaverfield. He checks into the local inn and meets Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), another recent transplant and new mailwoman. The inn is owned by the emotional Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), who’s husband recently left her. Other guests include, Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), a renowned environmentalist, and Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), a businessman who wants to build a gas pipeline in Beaverfield. He needs the town to unanimously vote for the pipeline or the ordinance will fail. Dr. Ellis, of course, is bitterly opposed.
The story begins when Trisha Anderton’s (Michaela Watkins) beloved dog is snatched during his late night walk. She and her handsy husband (Michael Chernus) want Finn to investigate. He and Cecily find a disturbing clue. But before they can proceed further, a bitter snow storm wallops Beaverfield. The roads are blocked and the power is down. The townsfolk flee to the inn, but the generator suddenly fails. Finn discovers claw marks have shredded the metal casing. Someone, or something, has trapped them all at the inn.
Every character has a bizarre quirk that comes into play as the story progresses. The pipeline money pits rich against poor, which in turn reveals deeper societal and cultural divisions. These interactions get funnier as the danger increases. Finn has to get over his meek persona to referee the increasing hostilities. Milana Vayntrub, famous for her commercial portrayal of AT&T’s “Lily”, shows off her acting chops with biting sarcasm. Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén are also hilarious scene stealers as a wealthy gay couple. The ensemble cast of veteran character actors are in top comedic form here.
Director Josh Ruben (Scare Me, Adam Ruins Everything) uses quick cut edits and focused camera shots to capture the lunacy of the situation. The actors, who have improv and theater backgrounds, react in exaggerated ways. This is great when they’re all together in a scene. Ruben then smartly cuts away from the group perspective to show the individual responses. This is well done and gives the film a distinct flow. The music by Anna Drubich is instrumental in highlighting these moments. Screenwriter Mishna Wolff also deserves credit for updating the video game’s plot. She crafts a smart mystery. Werewolves Within has all facets of the production on the same page. You get the feeling that everyone working on this film was fully engaged, and understood the tone of the narrative.
Horror comedies are rarely this enjoyable. I find most forays in this genre to be underwhelming and poorly executed. Werewolves Within strikes the right balance. It’s funny when it needs to be, but is never silly. And sneaks in a few scares when least expected. Werewolves Within is a production of Ubisoft and Vanishing Angle. It will be released theatrically on June 25th. Followed by a VOD streaming premiere on July 2nd from IFC Films.