Josh Ruben (Scare Me) opens his new film Werewolves Within with what may be a first, a quote from Mr. Rogers. Being as that was a kid’s TV show and this is an R-rated adaptation of a horror video, excuse me, virtual reality game that might not seem to be sending the right message. Actually, it turns out to be extremely fitting.
Finn (Sam Richardson, Promising Young Woman, The Tomorrow War) is a forest ranger who’s freshly arrived in the small town of Beaverfield. Beaverfield is currently in the middle of a crisis, Sam Parker’s (Wayne Duvall, The Hunt The Trial of the Chicago 7) company Midland Oil wants to run a pipeline through the town. And that has the population divided.
However, that is about to become a lot less important. There’s a storm blowing in and someone, or something, is using it as cover while they kill off the locals. Can Finn and Cecily (Milana Vayntrub, Mother’s Little Helpers), the town’s new mailperson figure out who is behind the killings and stop them before they become the next victims?
This movie is a tribute to those of us who are resolute that good conquers evil, and that “being good” is the best weapon we’ve got, against guns, knives, even claws… Sometimes, you just gotta be a good neighbour, no matter how wicked people are.”Josh Ruben, director of Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within is based on Ubisoft’s VR game of the same name. I haven’t played it, but from what I’ve read, just about all Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff kept from it was the concept of the players having to figure out the creature’s identity. Given the rather dismal track record of films based on games, that’s probably the best approach to take. For every Mortal Kombat or Silent Hill, there’s an Alone in the Dark and a Dead Trigger.
Naturally, this means the first part of Werewolves Within concentrates on introducing us to several colourful characters. They include Marcus (George Basil, Desperados) and his wife, a pair of mechanics who personify the term white trash. Trish (Michaela Watkins, American Dad), a crafter who insists Antifa are defacing pro-pipeline yard signs and Emerson (Glenn Fleshler, Billions), a trapper who has violent issues with the concept of government. Once the bodies start dropping there’s no shortage of suspects.
Werewolves Within resembles a cross between the Peter Cushing guess the werewolf film The Beast Must Die, The Thing, and an Agatha Christie mystery played for laughs. And, unlike with Scare Me, this time I actually laughed. Between horror tropes, political barbs, and general eccentricity there’s a lot to laugh at here and the cast does a great job with it, especially the two leads. Richardson makes an appealing goody-two-shoes hero and Vayntrub’s Cecily is such a bundle of cuteness and charisma that she even makes Ace of Bass’ “The Sign” tolerable.
Werewolves Within is light on actual horror. There are a few jump scares, but despite the R rating, there are only a couple of bloody effects. The emphasis is solidly on mystery and laughs rather than shocks. Even the final showdown, while exciting, is laced with gags. It still manages to be scarier than Hunter’s Moon though.
A film that manages to be both good-natured and filled with incredibly dark humour, Werewolves Within certainly changed my opinion of Josh Ruben. I’m looking forward to his next film, especially if he reteams with Mishna Wolff.
Werewolves Within made its debut at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival on June 16th. IFC Films will release Werewolves Within theatrically on June 25th and On-Demand and Digital on July 2nd. You can check the film’s website for more information.