Never as consistently popular as vampires, werewolves have long been the underdog (pun entirely intended) of the horror world. However, their moon seems to be rising and the cycle returning in their favour – with Jim Cummings’ The Wolf of Snow Hollow which came out in October 2020, Amelia Moses’ Bloodthirsty which came out in April 2021 and Sean Ellis’ Eight for Silver appearing at Sundance 2021. Then there is Leigh Whannell’s The Wolf Man (starring JumpCut mascot Ryan Gosling), Rules for Werewolves (starring Finn Wolfhard – how perfect?) and Marvel’s Moon Knight (starring Oscar Isaac) all set to debut in the next year or so. Now, quickly following up on 2020’s enjoyable horror comedy Scare Me, director Josh Ruben is back with unlikely VR game adaptation – Werewolves Within. Very much in the ensemble mold of Ready or Not or Knives Out, which were both released in 2019, Werewolves Within also has a murder mystery feel to it, with the residents of a small town sheltering in the B&B while various occupants are picked off and…everyone’s a suspect.
People-pleasing Finn (Sam Richardson) is the new ranger in the town of Beaverfield and he is shown around by mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), including the home of gun-toting Emerson Flint – a hermit attempting to live without government interference. He gradually meets the rest of the town’s motley crew including B&B owner Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), dog-and-craft loving Trish (Michaela Watkins), rich city transplants Joaquim (What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey Guillen) and Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and environmental scientist Dr Ellis (Rebecca Henderson – Russian Doll, Westworld). The town is being torn apart by a proposed pipeline which will go under the national forest and then there’s a snowstorm, something starts attacking the power generators and first Trish’s beloved dog, then Jeanine’s husband are also attacked by someone…..or something.
Werewolves Within succeeds most in the fireside ensemble scenes, where everyone bickers and no one trusts each other. As with Knives Out, the inclusion of contemporary issues and concerns, with jokes about modern life means it might not age well, but the cast of comedic performers sell the material in a very entertaining way. Horror fans may become frustrated that there isn’t enough werewolf or enough horror, but the eventual payoff is well executed, with a few amusing twists and turns along the way. And there is enough blood, gore and violence to keep things ticking over. The theme of “maybe we’re the real monsters?” is a little overcooked, but writer Mishna Wolff (yes, seriously) does well at constantly undercutting the moralising with humour. This being a video game adaptation is the biggest surprise, because it really doesn’t feel like one, but I guess this does make it a natural successor to Clue – with the progression of inspiration coming from a board game to a computer game.
Anna Drubich’s lively score is one of the highlights of the film, as is the use of a couple of banging 90s tracks from Ace of Base and Savage Garden. The location of a real B&B in upstate New York (with real snowdrifts to boot) is another big selling point. Writer Wolff does well to balance the large cast of characters, making them distinct, memorable and just exaggerated enough for comedic effect, while still being recognisably flawed humans. Performance-wise, Milana Vayntrub is the real stand-out, bringing unpredictability to Cecily throughout. Sam Richardson is best known for Veep, but I was unfamiliar with him before Werewolves Within – his chemistry with Vayntrub is convincing and he makes a good calm focal point amongst the storm that is a town of weirdos.
Like all horror comedies (a genre mash-up I adore), Werewolves Within would work best with a crowd, so if you have that option, I urge you to take it. A highly entertaining mix of ensemble murder mystery with werewolf movie, this is a video game adaptation that works, against the odds. The writing by Wolff and the talented cast are the main reasons for it being so enjoyable, although between this and Scare Me, director Ruben is also proving to be an exciting new voice in horror. Join me in welcoming werewolves back into the mainstream, so we can howl to our heart’s content – awoo!
WEREWOLVES WITHIN WILL BE IN THEATRES FROM JUNE 25 & AVAILABLE TO RENT EVERYWHERE JULY 2, 2021