In my book, director Josh Ruben is two-for-two after his efforts on last year’s Scare Me and now with his follow-up film, the horror comedy/whodunnit Werewolves Within. Written by Mishna Wolff and based on the Ubisoft game, Werewolves Within is easily one of the most confidently crafted genre mash-ups to come along in years that delivers a ton of laughs, a compelling mystery, and an incredibly talented ensemble who all deliver an array of memorable and scene-stealing performances. I’m no psychic, but I do suspect that by the end of this year, many horror fans will be touting Werewolves Within amongst their favorite genre films of 2021.
In Werewolves Within, we’re first introduced to Finn (Sam Richardson), who is heading to his new Ranger post in the snowy, small town of Beaverfield. He’s been recently “sort of” broken up with by his girlfriend, and so Finn is looking to this new job opportunity as a means of getting a fresh start. When he arrives, things aren’t so peaceful in the idyllic mountain town, as an oil industrialist (Wayne Duvall) is trying to pressure Beaverfield’s residents to sell their property so that he can set up an oil pipeline that will run through the area’s beautiful forest landscapes. Some of the residents are happy to sell, others are reluctant, and tensions are now at an all-time high amongst the tight-knit members of the Beaverfield community.
To make matters worse, it seems like there also happens to be a lycanthrope running amok, and after a snowstorm leaves everyone stranded and disconnected from the outside world, it’s up to Finn and a helpful postal worker named Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) to put their heads together in order to figure out just who the bloodthirsty werewolf is before it’s too late.
While there’s no doubt that Werewolves Within is very much its own thing, especially considering how it directly ties into the game from Ubisoft, there are aspects of the film that were reminiscent of some of my own personal favorite films of all time—Clue, The Thing, Hot Fuzz, Silver Bullet and maybe even a smidge of Radioland Murders thrown in there as well—which made it impossible for me not to be completely won over by its charms. In fact, the opening scene in Werewolves Within where Finn is listening to an empowerment tirade so that he can become more of a man (at the insistence of his ex), there’s a moment where he’s repeatedly shouting “balls!” to himself while driving which left me in stitches, and I pretty much continued laughing until the very end of the film.
There are so many different aspects of Werewolves Within that helped make it a wholly impressive, genre-bending effort from everyone involved that it’s hard to pinpoint just every great thing about it, but here are a few of the highlights. First of all, Wolff’s whip-smart script is a remarkable feat of genius, where once we bring everyone in Beaverfield together, the dialogue is just constantly coming at you, but it’s not like a bunch of noise, either. Every sentence matters, which is no easy feat in a project like this. In fact, there are so many little character moments and plot-related tidbits worked into each of the character’s dialogue, that I was happy to watch it a second time because there’s so much that I missed with the first go-around that the second viewing still gave me plenty of moments to enjoy. This might sound dismissive, but I mean it wholly as a compliment, but, to me, Wolff’s approach to the dialogue in Werewolves Within felt akin to spending a day on Twitter, where you’re constantly watching a variety of personalities go back and forth over topical issues, their relationships, things they care about, and things they absolutely hate. I’m totally fascinated by the narrative she was able to put together here, and I hope a version of it gets released just so I can dig back into everything all over again.
In addition to Wolff’s brilliant script, Werewolves Within is also elevated by its incredible cast, who are all endlessly watchable and do a fantastic job of bringing to life this kooky group of small-town folks who all have their own mantras and motivations driving them throughout this mystery. Beyond Richardson, Vayntrub, and Duvall’s aforementioned characters, Werewolves Within also features Beaverfield Inn owner (and premier sandwich maker) Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), aspiring craft store owner Trisha (Michaela Watkins) and her handsy husband Pete (Michael Chernus), local mechanic Gwen (Sarah Burns) and her hilariously dim-witted other half Marcus (George Basil), married yoga enthusiasts Joaquim (Harvey Guillén) and Devon (Cheyenne Jackson), a mysterious environmentalist named Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), and Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler), a local trapper who doesn’t take kindly to authority or people trespassing on his property.
The entire cast of Werewolves Within are all playing various archetypes of characters that we all know and love to varying degrees, and yet, none of their performances come across as stereotypical one-note characterizations, which is not an easy thing to pull off. I won’t get into too many specifics with each of these characters, because that would be another 2,000 words right there, but what I will say is that when you’re watching the film, be mindful of every little aspect of the cast’s performances: the way they walk, the way they deliver their lines, and even their reactions to different scenarios—all of these small details among the cast of Werewolves Within matter completely to their respective characters and again, a lot of this was stuff I picked up on my second viewing because I could really take the time to absorb so much more of the film’s back-and-forth once I knew where the mystery was heading.
Obviously, another crucial element to the success of Werewolves Within is having Ruben at the helm, who proved with Scare Me that he has the directorial chops to deliver up a genre comedy that’s both thought-provoking and humorous that never plays for laughs at the expense of the story’s genre elements, either. And for as much as I loved what Ruben was able to achieve with his micro-budget ode to storytelling in Scare Me, there’s a new sense of confidence on display from the filmmaker here where you can tell he really trusted in both the script and his cast, going all-in to deliver up a quick-witted cinematic brain-teaser that will keep you guessing until all is revealed.
I live in a household that fully embraces what we call “the talkies” (essentially movies that just throw rapid-fire, snappy dialogue at audiences), and to me, Ruben has now directed two of the best horror “talkies” to come about since the previously mentioned Hot Fuzz, and if this is the type of output that Ruben is capable of with only two features under his belt thus far, I cannot even begin to imagine what’s still to come in his still-burgeoning career.
As far as video game adaptations go, it’s no secret that they are notoriously hard to pull off, but Werewolves Within proves that all is not lost when it comes to these types of films. Between Wolff’s pitch-perfect script that dispenses a steady stream of laughs, a bevy of endlessly engaging performances from a top-notch cast, and a director who clearly is having a blast with both the story and these characters, Werewolves Within is a triumph in every possible way that should please genre enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Even after the second viewing, I still enjoyed it as much as the first time I saw it, and I suspect that Werewolves Within will undoubtedly provide continual entertainment for fans for years (and years) to come.
Movie Score: 5/5
[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of Sabrina Lantos.]