Directed by Josh Ruben (Scare Me) from a screenplay by Mishna Wolff, the new horror film, Werewolves Within, deftly blends its influences into a clever, entertaining take on the werewolf film.
“After a proposed pipeline creates divisions within the small town of Beaverfield, and a snowstorm traps its residents together inside the local inn, newly arrived forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) must try to keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community.”
As pointed out in an interview for Syfy Wire, the film pulls “from a diverse array of influences ranging from Clue to The Beast Must Die to one of the great 1980s horror-comedies, Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad.” Werewolves Within leans really hard into the “within” part of that title, spending a good part of the film’s middle third within Beaverfield’s sprawling inn during a snowstorm and power outage, allowing for a series of closed-door misdirections, cabin-fever arguments, and barely-glimpsed terrors.
The joy of a movie like this is the vast array of characters which get to populate the town and inn. Almost immediately after Finn arrives, Cecily takes him on a tour of the town which introduces all of the major players in the film. It’s a rapid-fire series of sketches, many of which provide potential clues and portents for what will come during Werewolves Within‘s final act.
Many of the actors in the film have ensemble or sketch backgrounds, which allow them to demonstrate split-second timing during the many scenes wherein the back-and-forth goes a mile-a-minute. Harvey Guillén has come to prominence for his role of Guillermo on What We Do in the Shadows, Cheyenne Jackson has appeared in several seasons of American Horror Story, Michaela Watkins was a one-year cast member of Saturday Night Live, Richardson has worked with Tim Robinson on both Detroiters and I Think You Should Leave, and Catherine Curtin was on Orange Is the New Black. These are all folks who know how to play off one another and really elevate the whole of the film.
That said, Richardson and Vayntrub get the majority of the screen time, and the hinted possibility of a potential relationship between the two of them is played for maximum anxiety and comedic potential, which offers an interesting contrast to the anxiety and horror of the creature wreaking havoc within the isolated mountain town.
Now, the plot – a small town in the winter is beset by a beats which may or may not be a werewolf, with an array of character actors in excellent roles – might remind some genre fans of last year’s Jim Cummings-directed film, The Wolf of Snow Hollow. While both movies might share a basic premise, Werewolves Within is definitely more of a straight horror comedy, a la Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or The Monster Squad, whereas The Wolf of Snow Hollow was more of a dramatic horror film with some comedic elements. While Cummings’ movie got a little dark here and there, Ruben’s leans into the laughs whenever possible.
Thanks to enough red herrings to stock a fish pond, the viewer is kept constantly guessing as to whether the creature is human or lycanthropic in nature. Almost every character has the potential to be the perpetrator, with the proposed pipeline only one of the many issues creating grievances between each and every member of this small community. As Cecily says to Finn during their tour, “Welcome to Beaverfield. It’s a freak show.”
While I’m always a sucker for horror comedies in general, the reason Werewolves Within works so well is due to the fact that it works in both broad and intensely-dry comedy. The number of asides – be they muttered, whispered, or otherwise quietly delivered – is too high to count, but there are also pratfalls, splatstick, and the sound of Finn repeatedly yelling, “Balls!” as he drives into town. It contains multitudes, and I love it for that.
Granted, at times Wolff’s script and Ruben’s direction feel a bit scattershot, attempting to go in too many directions and give too much screen time to everyone involved. The more characters, the more opportunities for misdirection and oddball relationships – Michael Chernus’ Pete Anderton and his sexual peccadilloes offer myriad hilarious-yet-creepy reasons within just one character – and that’s super, but with the exception of Finn and Cecily, all of Beaverfield’s other residents and visitors exist mainly as gags. Given that the gags are usually pretty funny, that’s mostly fine, but some viewers might find Werewolves Within packed a little too heavily.
In the end, though, Josh Ruben’s direction and Mishna Wolff’s script, as well as utterly charming and witty performances from the entire cast, leave Werewolves Within as a horror comedy which has just enough bite.
Werewolves Within is out this Friday, June 25, in select theaters, and available to rent on Friday, July 2.