The question is perhaps not “do werewolves exist,” but rather “does it matter if werewolves exist when human beings, with all their horrific faults, are trapped together and believe that werewolves might exist?” Such is one of the conundrums put before the audience with the new film, “Werewolves Within,” directed by Josh Ruben, written by Mishna Wolff, and based on the video game from Ubisoft. Oh, and before we go any further, the answer to the question is, “Don’t be stupid. Of course it matters, werewolves, should they exist, will kill you and you need to know what you’re up against; they’re just not the only thing that matters.”
So, yes, sure, this is a movie about what certainly appears to be a werewolf attacking a small town of eccentrics. It is also a movie about distrust and anger and environmentalism battling business and love and other things as well. Most importantly, however, it is both supremely fascinating and terribly entertaining.
The talented cast is led by Sam Richardson of “Veep” fame. Richardson plays Finn Wheeler, a forest ranger whom we first find driving up to the town of Beaverfield. He’s there to keep an eye on Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), who is trying to get a gas pipeline built through the town. The pipeline has divided the residents, some coming down on the side of making money and others on not destroying our world in order to make a quick buck. Upon arrival, Finn is clued into his surroundings by the local postal worker, Cecily Moore (Milana Vayntrub), who also gives him the scoop on all of the town locals and their colorful ways. It is undeniably an eclectic group of folks, perhaps more so than one might believe possible in such a tale (if such a tale were real). Each resident is rendered distinct not just by Cecily’s description of them, but the performances as well (the cast includes George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, Wayne Duvall, Harvey Guillén, Rebecca Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, and Glenn Fleshler).
“Werewolves Within” aims much more for broad characterizations and laughs as opposed to nuance and depth. Rather than feeling like a cop out, the choice works perfectly into the overall aesthetic of the movie, which plays up the laughs, (often) minimizes the blood, and seems to want to do nothing more than have the audience sit there amused as they watch and try to figure out whodunit.
Also working perfectly into the film’s feel is the basic setup. It isn’t just that this is a small town full of eccentrics trying to decide their future as a werewolf may or may not be taking them out one-by-one, soon enough the power goes out and a storm hits and the road is blocked. “Werewolves Within” is clearly not aiming to go after anything particularly original in this sequence of events, but rather goes for the jugular with its quirkiness. The generally dark visuals may seem at odds with what we’re getting, and the possibility that someone will find bits momentarily frightening exists, but the look in the end merely serves to heighten the rest of the affair.
This is not an out-and-out comedy, but rather a comedy with a bit of horror and mystery thrown in for good measure. As the story unfolds, we find ourselves wanting to know whether the werewolf exists in the world or if we’re being played and it simply exists within our various psyches. Either way, the movie definitely keeps you guessing as various townsfolk are struck down in their tracks and fear gets the best of others.
Richardson and Vayntrub are placed at the front of the group the most often, and both prove completely and totally absorbing. Cecily showing Finn around town near the start of the movie and providing the inside scoop on Beaverfield is exactly as long as sequence as it needs to be, but I would have happily watched for another 20 minutes. Their rapport is outstanding. For the movie to work we have to root for the two of them, and we certainly do, but it winds up being more than just a surface thing, we truly pull for both to survive the night unharmed.
Everything about “Werewolves Within” feels exactly right. It is clever and funny and tense and biting. It is proof, not that any was needed, that basing a film on a videogame does not automatically lead to disappointment. And, although I’ve never played the title, I have now added it to my to-do list.
photo credit: IFC Films