Director: Josh Ruben
Writer: Mishna Wolff
Cast: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Wayne Duvall, Catherine Curtin, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Glenn Fleshler
Producers: Jason Altman, Margaret Boykin, Andrew Lieberman, Natalie Metzger, Matt Miller, Sam Richardson, Benjamin Wiessner
Music: Anna Drubich
Cinematographer: Matt Wise
Editor: Brett W. Bachman
Running time: 97mins
What’s the story: In the small mountain town of Beaverfield, the locals come to believe a werewolf prowls amongst them.
What’s the verdict: Josh Ruben’s Scare Me was a smart horror anthology movie with a twist: instead of dramatising its short tales of terror, it had the storytelling characters act them out (assisted by effective lighting and camerawork). Werewolves Within also has a twist in its
tail tale. To be more accurate, multiple twists. But, to reveal any would be to spoil one of the year’s most enjoyable chiller-chucklers.
“Knives Out on a full moon” is a good indication of what director Ruben and nominative-determinist screenwriter Mishna Wolff have in store. A canny lycanthropic whodunnit/who-is-it, with as many guffaws as gasps, all played by an ensemble cast to savour…
The perennially likeable Sam Richardson is park ranger Finn Wheeler, relocated to Beaverfield, a mountain town located somewhere between Northern Exposure’s Cicely and Twin Peaks. Welcoming Sam to the remote locale is Milana Vayntrub’s perky mail-person Cecily (surely an NE reference?), who has the lowdown on the locals.
Beaverfield’s townsfolk have become split into two camps. Those who support literally oily businessman Sam Parker (Duvall) and his plan to build a gas pipeline through the town, and those crying environmental vandalism.
On Sam’s side are Trisha (Watkins) and Pete (Chernus); Trisha idolises her pint-size pooch Cha-Chi and dreams of opening a crafts store, while Pete has a wandering eye and equally wandering hands. Their polar opposites are Joaquim (Guillén) and Devon (Jackson), a tech millionaire same-sex couple who oppose the pipeline and the casual homophobia. Horny mechanics Gwen (Burns) and Marcus (Basil) never met anyone they couldn’t proposition, and fancy getting their hands on some of that filthy pipeline lucre. Out in the woods, wilderness man Emerson (Fleshler) appears to be a walking, gun-toting advert against rural life.
Everyone involved has bigger worries when a dead body turns up, and a visiting scientist discovers evidence pointing to lycanthropy. As the characters hold up in the town’s only hotel, owned by the kindly Jeanine (Curtin), suspicions turn to accusations as to who the argyrophobic meanie might be. Or, did the good doctor get it wrong, and the only werewolves are those roaming everyone’s paranoia?
The movie’s strength is in letting the audience search for clues alongside its hapless characters. Like a horror adaptation of Cluedo directed by Edgar Wright, it has visual energy, storytelling verve, and a body bag’s worth of laugh-out-loud jokes. Some of which Ruben and Wolff are confident enough to throw in amidst overlapping arguments, knowing fans will likely return for seconds.
As with Scare Me, Ruben and his cast can turn the comedy tone darker on a dime, with suspense sequences played for a pleasingly high jolt factor. For those non-gamers amongst us (me included), it is surprising to discover this is all derived from a Ubisoft video game. No idea if it remains faithful to the original, but in its strong plotting and performances the film ranks as that rare beast: a successful video game to movie adaptation.
Even putting the video game to one side, Werewolves Within is not wholly original. The Peter Cushing-starring 1974 horror The Beast Must Die has a strikingly similar plot (and invites the audience to join in the investigation). Knives Out and Clue are both felt in the film’s fabric, alongside The Thing in its widescreen horror and Black Christmas in the chilly visuals.
Some audiences may bemoan the restrained use of prosthetics and make-up effects, but horror fans who like their gore slathered over brains will give this a gold star, quietly tucking away the silver.