Werewolves Within is a fine horror/comedy with an unusual pedigree.
The film, directed by Josh Ruben and written by the aptly named Misha Wolff, is a horror-comedy set in a small town, with a slight whiff of political commentary. The film was adapted from the video game of the same name and comes from Ubisoft Film & Television, the video game company’s entertainment arm.
Werewolves Within combines a fine cast of underutilized comic performers and gives them witty and funny things to do and say. Overall, it’s a successful effort that’s worth seeking out, even if you’re not familiar with the video game (I’m not, although I gather that the action has been transported from the medieval era to the present day.)
The movie made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-June, and it also played at the PFS Springfest festival in Philadelphia the same week. It hits theaters, via IFC, on June 25, with a VOD release to follow July 2. If this becomes a word-of-mouth sleeper hit, I would not be shocked at all.
Werewolves Within stars Sam Richardson, the star of such comedy nerd touchstones as Veep, Detroiters, and I Think You Should Leave. He plays a forest ranger who arrives in a small town called Beaverfield, where he still gets to know a local postal worker (Milana Vayntrub- Lily from AT&T!). Eventually, we meet more characters, played by such recognizable character actors as Michael Chernus, Michaela Watkins, Cheyenne Jackson, and Glenn Fleshler.
The conceit is that this small town is torn apart over whether or not a gas pipeline should be built through the town. Meanwhile, a creature that may very well be a werewolf is attacking people locally, and the town soon comes apart over different people accusing one another of being the wolf.
None of these are especially new ideas in horror, sci-fi, or even drama. Jim Cummings’ The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which came out just eight months ago, played with a lot of the same ideas, related to people in a small town accusing one another of being a werewolf, in a way that was somewhat analogous to the political dysfunctions of the Trump era.
Both of those werewolf movies, though, are much better than most of the attempts to bring political satire to the big screen in the last five years, mostly because they get away from the tired gimmick of making every liberal a smug know-it-all and every conservative a toothless troglodyte, and seeing that as a fair way of calling it down the middle.
What really works here is the cast. Sam Richardson is always hilarious, whether he’s playing a hyper-earnest presidential aide who’s the only person on his show with a moral compass, or he’s the MC of the world’s most hostile baby beauty pageant. Here, he makes the most out of a rare chance to lead a movie.
But the real secret weapon here is Vayntrub, the cell phone pitchwoman who truly has potential as a movie actress, whether she’s playing a romantic lead or a scream queen or something else I won’t reveal. “Admit it, I was too good to be true,” she says at one point.
This is Ruben’s second film as director, after SCARE ME, a 2020 Sundance movie that debuted on Shudder last year. I haven’t seen that, but Werewolves Within is one of those movies that makes me very eager to see what its director comes up with next.