When the trailer for this film popped up in my feed a few months back, skepticism was my first feeling; especially after finding out it’s based off a Ubisoft game of the same title. Well, like a man turning into a werewolf, consider everything about me changed. This IFC backed venture directed by Josh Ruben, whom you may recall directed and starred opposite Aya Cash in the worth-watching Scare Me, shows that he’s no one-hit wonder behind the lens. The writing is witty and sharp, with the kind of one-liners and retorts that’ll be running through your mind for the foreseeable future. The real magic is the cohesiveness of this small cast whose performances carry the film from beginning to end.
Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson and Glenn Fleshler’s standout performances made this horror-comedy such an easy recommendation for this reviewer. We open with Sam Richardson (Detroiters, VEEP, I Think You Should Leave) as Finn Wheeler, a Park Ranger on his new assignment in the town of Beaverfield. Finn is a nice guy, no not one of those nice guys, but perhaps just the archetype of a good guy that has been missing in our own reality. He runs into the newly appointed mail carrier Cecily, played perfectly by Milana Vayntrub in a role that allowed her to flex her comedic chops. Cecily is a progressive woman who sees the town for what it is; behind the times. Finn and Cecily hit it off right away while meeting the rest of the residents; including Joaquim and Devon Wolfson, the dynamic duo of Harvey Guillén and Cheyenne Jackson. My heart leapt when these two appeared, my love of Guillén from his scene-stealing performance in What We Do in the Shadows and Cheyenne Jackson from his limited time on 30 ROCK, I knew something special was coming my way. Joaquiam and Devon are an affluent couple from tech dealings and owning a yoga studio. The other surprise was the brutish trapper Emerson, Glenn Fleshler, who viewers will remember as the behemoth monster Errol Childress from True Detective season one. Enter the classic shut-in scenario: a massive snowstorm, an impassable road blockage, destroyed generators, the entire town stuck in the rustic Beaverfield Inn, and let’s not forget the werewolf trapped within.
Keeping to the spoiler-free credo that my reviews follow, let us delicately traverse the inner-workings of this film. From the opening quote accredited to Mr. Rogers that sprawls across the screen, “Listening is where love begins. Listening to ourselves and then our neighbors,” we see our first clue into the message behind the madness that follows. A pipeline is being built in Beaverfield, with one side looking at the profit that will come with it, and other looking at the nature that will be destroyed. Pressure is mounting even before the lycanthropes presence is detected. Mr. Rogers is quoted a few times more within the film, but the ideology remains, it’s not a beautiful day in this neighborhood. Tensions continue to mount amongst our trapped guests; finally reaching a breaking point when they begin to be picked off one-by-one. But is it all the werewolf’s doing? Ruben does a tremendous job highlighting this feeling of paranoia amongst the inn’s lodgers and leaving viewers guessing up to the last minute not who the werewolf is, but rather, was there ever really a werewolf at all. Congruent with this, Werewolves Within might be one of the more enlightened films; touching on very relevant opinions and beliefs that are troubling neighbors in our own world. To hit on such a diverse range of topics, while still maintain a classic, gruesome horror presence, this film has earned its spot amongst the best of horror-comedies.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I REALLY enjoyed this film. From beginning to the very surprising end, again no spoilers, I did not reach for my phone or check to see how much time was left. In fact, my only criticism would have been to flesh it out a bit longer. Its 96-minute runtime went by in the blink of the eye, a credit to this talented cast and fast-moving plot. I just couldn’t get enough of this town or it’s people. When you have a group of actors that are as talented as this, you want every opportunity to see them flex their chops. Give me a series on the day-to-day lives of these townspeople because that is how invested I am. I’ve glanced at other reviews where they claimed this lacked a “big star,” when in reality, they all were stars. From Cecily’s dancing to the Ace of Base classic “The Sign,” an eventual gif I will use to message my wife to let her know it’s time to party, to the delivery of Finn’s bumper sticker worthy line: “It’s fucking okay to be nice! Pardon my Language. It’s effin’ okay to be nice,” this was just a joy to watch.
Almost two decades ago, IFC went from the little engine that could, to the little engine that did, taking chances on films like this one; films that might not have received a second look. We need more companies to take these risks before we are inundated with sequel after sequel and the same 5 or 6 faces in leading roles. After watching the actors and actresses I have enjoyed so much in other works finally be put in the direct spotlight makes me hopeful again for the future of filmmaking. Werewolves Within got the director and cast it deserved, doing the seemingly impossible, making an enjoyable adaptation from a video game. It opens in theaters nationally Friday July 2nd and on-demand. If you are looking for something scary, fun, and thoughtful, you are in luck, and may I recommend bringing a neighbor or two?