Werewolves Within, 2021.
Directed by Josh Ruben.
Starring Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Michael Chernus, Michaela Watkins, Cheyenne Jackson, Harvey Guillén, George Basil, Anni Krueger, Sarah Burns, Wayne Duvall, Catherine Curtin, Rebecca Henderson, and Glenn Fleshler.
When a proposed pipeline creates hostilities between residents of a small town, a newly-arrived forest ranger must keep the peace after a snowstorm confines the townspeople to an old lodge. But when a mysterious creature begins terrorizing the group, their worst tendencies and prejudices rise to the surface, and it is up to the ranger to keep the residents alive, both from each other and the monster which plagues them.
Werewolves Within corrupts the senses before properly beginning, announcing itself as an adaptation of the low-budget hit game from Ubisoft (nothing necessarily crazy about that part) while also opening with Mister Rogers quotes about being a friendly neighbor. From there, it goes into some upbeat music that doesn’t quite fit either. If nothing else, Director Josh Ruben (he helmed, wrote, and starred in last year’s decently received Scare Me) and debut writer Mishna Wolff establish a promising playful tone. However, it soon becomes clear that the whodunnit (it’s very much a game of Werewolf set inside a snowy Vermont town) is not going to match up to that potential or whatever fun there is to be found in the videogame (as a lifelong gamer I have somehow never got around to this one, but I can only assume it’s Among Us with werewolves before that game even existed).
Sam Richardson plays Finn, a disgraced park ranger (he was blasted on social media for fishing without a permit at the peer pressure of his friends) sent to this toxic dump to oversee a pipeline installation under the supervision of Wayne Duvall’s shady businessman Sam Parker. Naturally, some of the locals are for this change and others oppose it wondering how it will affect their living and work conditions. Finn is also using this middle of nowhere assignment to decompress and take time away from a relationship that everyone but him realizes is dead. His tour guide of the area and locals is postal worker Cecily (a spirited and whimsical Milana Vayntrub giving one of the better performances here), which is so rushed introducing characters whose personality traits barely register that it serves as a reminder to be thankful that something as idiosyncratic as Twin Peaks was a TV show with more time to make bazaar individuals stand out.
As the first day comes to an end, Finn and Cecily briefly connect in the town lodge, discussing their various hobbies, relationship thoughts, and flirting while taking up activities such as ax throwing. She suspiciously throws herself at him at an alarming rate, but it’s also clear that Finn is genuinely kind and compassionate. His only shortcoming is his inability to read the dynamic that his longtime girlfriend, who no longer answers his calls or responds to text messages, is done with him.
Finn also has the patience of a saint, which is required considering all the townsfolk here are painfully irritating. They come from different political backgrounds, social classes, sexualities, and ethnicities, yet somehow all come across as the same offputting and screaming person. It’s not a spoiler to say that chewed bodies begin to pile up with everyone concluding a werewolf is afoot (there is also a doctor among the group analyzing DNA samples to narrow down what they are up against). At one point, fingers are flying in every direction with no signs of stopping, prompting Finn to grab a piece of pottery and hurl it at the wall in hopes of deescalating the arguing. It’s the only time this otherwise gentle and well-mannered man loses his composure, except it’s also a vicarious audience reaction.
It is evident that Werewolves Within is attempting to stir a dialogue in the realm of cancel culture, unfounded accusations (mostly just because two people don’t agree on a certain topic), and personal matters such as who is fucking who, but it also loses sight of anything it wants to say from all the incessant verbal fighting that only amounts to irritation. That’s also a shame considering once the proceedings get more violent, there are some impressive special-effects and, most importantly, well-crafted sequences of horror so assured and carefully staged that one can’t help but wonder why it took so long to provide the goods. A limited budget is most likely the answer.
Werewolves Within has some fun late-game action sequences (even if the story itself is mostly predictable and fails at almost every attempt of misdirection), but the painstakingly grating characters do this one in long before the intensity ramps up. It’s a game of Werewolf filled with so many unlikeable characters that it’s hard to muster up any energy to play along.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com