Adapted from a 2016 Ubisoft video game, “Werewolves Within” is a story about paranoia, greed, and yes, werewolves.
The film takes place in a present-day mountain town – a far cry difference to the medieval setting of the video game. The video game studio’s last foray into the world of film adaptations came in the form of 2016’s “Assassins Creed.” After the large scale failure of that film left them with a bad taste, it’s easy to see where the idea for a much smaller, scaled back approach originated.
The biggest strength of “Werewolves Within” comes from its stellar ensemble. Led by Sam Richardson (“Veep”) and Milana Vayntrub, this zany cast of characters brings humor and heart to a horror story. Director Josh Ruben is known for his work in comedy, thanks to his television show, “You’re the Worst” and his first feature, “Scare Me.” While this is certainly a more competently directed film than his last, his roots in comedy can be felt at the core of his direction.
Richardson is perfectly cast as a somewhat bumbling park ranger who is too kind for his own good. After years of stealing scenes wherever he appeared, seeing him in a leading role feels refreshing, and will hopefully lead to more work. Rounding out the supporting cast are Sarah Burns, Catherine Curtin, Michael Chernus, and George Basil, creating a who’s who of comedy actors. A lot of these performers come with experience in stand-up and improv, and it’s easy to tell, and a number have worked with Ruben in the past.
First time screenwriter Mishna Wolff has crafted a clever story that has plenty to say about modern issues, but it’s also an homage to the whodunits of old. With notes of “Scream” and “Clue” and the whip-smart editing style of an Edgar Wright film, there are a lot of technical elements that “Werewolves Within” gets right – including a certain level of creepiness established by the editing and cinematography.
The story about the small town where everyone is on edge could easily be very dark, yet Ruben takes every opportunity to lean into a joke. Every scene and conversation has a joke or gag built into it, but as a result, there’s not enough room for tension to build or the horror aspects to truly sink in because any scene that builds on that momentum is undercut by a joke. Billing this as a straight-up comedy would be one thing, but considering there are actually some very well done scares and kills leads to tonal whiplash of sorts.
There are more than a few belly laughs, but with a script crammed so full of jokes, there are so many that simply don’t land as the repetitiveness takes over. When the credits roll, there is definitely more good than bad, and fans of anyone involved or comedy in general will be satisfied. If you can get over the silliness, this is definitely a film you need to seek out.
“Werewolves Within” is now playing in select theaters and releases July 2 on paid VOD services.
Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA