Jason Lake says 'Werewolves Within' is a lighthearted scare and a bombastic comedy that sadly went under the radar last year.
Director Josh Ruben’s film Werewolves Within (2021), revolves around the residents of a small town whose quaint lives are interrupted due to a proposed pipeline. On top of rising hostilities between the townsfolk, the villages’ newly-arrived forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) must keep the peace after a snowstorm confines the townspeople to the local lodge. He’s aided by mail carrier Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) who is also new to town. Adding chaos to an already tense situation, the citizens of Beaverfield soon discover that a mysterious creature has begun terrorizing their group. With panic forcing their worst tendencies and prejudices to the surface, the ranger is tasked to keep these residents alive, both from each other and the monster which plagues them. Ruben’s film, which is based on a video game of the same name by Red Storm Entertainment, sells itself as a classic whodunnit murder mystery. Its Clue (1985) meets The Howling (1981). However, the final result mostly comes across as an episode of Scooby-Doo rather than the 80’s horror classics.
While Werewolves Within is Ruben’s sophomore directorial effort, it’s also the debut effort of its screenwriter Mishna Wolff. Despite her best efforts, the whole concept of the film never quite sticks its landing. It is inhabited by a cast of colorful characters, portrayed by some great comedic character actors whose charm manages to rub off on the film as a whole. What really holds this film back, however, is that the filmmakers can’t decide if they’re playing towards children or adults. Wolff’s strongest contribution to the screenplay is injecting it with her witty dialogue. That being said, what prevents this horror-comedy from reaching its full potential as a Horror and Comedy hybrid is that Wolff’s comedic attributions are simply too lighthearted for some audiences.
Furthermore, one frustration I find is that it wastes any real chance to develop the characters past their cookie-cutter archetypes. All things considered, one of the characteristics of a murder-mystery and comedy is that each character represents a different archetype whose presence is painted in broad strokes. Granted in films like these, each character’s introduction is meant to leave the viewer nodding along, as if to say, “I know exactly who this person is supposed to be”. Examples of this are immediately evident in the town’s inhabitants, such as Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and Joaquim (Harvey Guillen). The two characters are introduced as a wealthy, liberal, gay couple who oppose any proposed pipeline—they moved to Beaverfield for its majestic scenery. Juxtaposed to this couple is both a white trash couple named Gwen (Sarah Burns) and Marcus (George Basil), as well as an ultra-conservative housewife named Trischa (Michaela Watkins), and her adulterous husband Marcus (Michael Chernus).
However, it is the ambition of a more disciplined screenwriter to develop these characters beyond cliche character traits, thus providing a more layered characterization of who these people are. Each actor does a lot of heavy lifting through their zany character choices, ultimately making Werewolves Within a much more endearing film than it otherwise might be. We are given a series of quirky character interactions, which in turn deprives us of any critical moments of character growth beyond each introduction. While this might be seen as one of the worst crimes a whodunnit can commit, it actually allows Ruben’s film to be over-the-top and cartoonish in the best possible way.
Werewolves Within is the kind of film where the cast was having fun while making it and that chaotic energy bursts out of the characters in quirky exchanges throughout. What holds the film back is that the light humorous tone prevents its horror elements from containing any real sense of danger. Furthermore, instead of trying to overcompensate this with more scares, any sense of real danger isn’t conveyed to the audience. It’s striking that this film was released forty years after two of the most iconic horror-comedy films of all time. John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) set the mold for genre hybrids, proving how brilliantly observative they can be in lovingly deconstructing werewolf mythology. These films continue to be the shining standard of the werewolf genre four decades later.
Considering this, it’s logical for one to assume the filmmakers would want to either pay homage to these films in some form; or completely disregard what they offer to the mythology, in favor of crafting something completely original. Both options would be fine, however the filmmakers instead try to split the difference. While the premise of the film pays homage to Dante’s The Howling, the bite is markedly less brutal. All of these things considered, viewers should walk into this film understanding that this is a comedy first and foremost. It’s evident that this is a ‘charming’ werewolf movie. Despite its R rating for adult language, one can easily recommend Werewolves Within as a prime candidate for an "introduction to horror" film.
It’s a film one can easily imagine being played late at night at slumber parties and even lends itself to families who are starved for appropriate content during the spooky season. Halloween is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, yet Hollywood rarely seems to cater toward families seeking to indulge in spookier forms of entertainment. Is it as lighthearted as Hocus Pocus (1993)? No, but one could perhaps place it in a double bill with Poltergeist (1982). All of Ruben’s creative choices in this film are camp personified. In conclusion, while Werewolves Within serves as a lighthearted scare, it’s a bombastic comedy that sadly went under the radar last year. Not all things are appreciated in their time—this filmis sure to become a cult hit in the years to come.
Werewolves Within is now streaming on-demand on all your favorite services and available to stream free for Showtime subscribers.