PLOT: When a divided community faces the threat of a werewolf, a forest ranger must step up to figure out what’s going on before the beast kills them all, or before they all kill each other.
REVIEW: Have you ever watched an old-school whodunnit and thought, “Yes, this is all great, but it needs more werewolves. Even just one werewolf. Even just the idea that there could be one around would make this much better.” If you have thought this and lived in sorrow believing your dreams wouldn’t become reality, then congratulations, because WEREWOLVES WITHIN is the answer to everything you’ve wanted in life and a horror-mystery-comedy.
Based on a Ubisoft video game I’m sure no one has ever heard of, Werewolves Within feels related less to video game source material and more to classic mystery stories that came before it. With all the hallmarks of a genre made famous by names like Agatha Christie and rejuvenated with Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Josh Ruben’s film plays as homage by taking the mystery and suspense at the core of the story seriously, while the humor (with a script from Mishna Wolff), allows for endless fun to be had with the tropes, unique cast of characters, and typical creature-feature horror. It’s almost maddening how well Werewolves manages to juggle so many influences and do them all so well.
At the heart of it all is a colorful cast of Beaverfield townsfolk who all have reason to hate each other, and thus reason to suspect one another. There’s the oddball, right-wing craft lady (Michaela Watkins) and her perv husband (Michael Chernus); there’s the sweet inn-keeper (Catherine Curtin); the two white-trash problem children (George Basil and Sarah Burns) and; the wealthy gay couple (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén) whose progressive views clash with an oil magnate (Wayne Duvall) from building a pipeline through their scenic town, stopping many of the aforementioned from getting rich. Adding to that lovely bunch is reclusive wildman Emerson (Glenn Fleshler) and out-of-town Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), both of whom give the main townspeople fodder to project a sense of “otherness” onto.
Most of them come with their own brand of moronic and vapid, but at the center of the story is the newly-arrived forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson). Not quite, Hercule Poirot, he feels more like a cousin to Richardson’s own Veep character, the unflappably optimistic Richard Splett, embodying the spirit of warm neighborly love the town’s in desperate need of, and whose signature line is when something doesn’t seem right is “Heavens to Betsy.” When the shit gets real he wastes no time doing the right thing by acting as the voice of reason to calm everyone down and get them to work together – even if his efforts fall on deaf ears. At his side is adorable, inviting mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), who doubles as a love interest and the only other level-headed person in town.
The bulk of the movie relies on the strength of the cast crafting unique personas and bouncing off each other, and the result is one of the funniest ensembles you’ll see all year. Particular standouts are Watkins and Guillén, the former giving Trisha such a peculiar way of speaking that makes her personality border between adorable and lunacy, while the latter drops line readings like “Everyone shut your stupid whore mouths and listen to this,” with such precision I imagine it took at least a dozen takes to get people to stop laughing. Richardson, who has spent years crushing it in supporting roles, has more than ever solidified himself as a leading man in a role that makes use of his lovable nature, with an added dose of heroism. With Ruben’s assured direction and Wolff’s focused storytelling, not only does the stellar cast get to bounce off each other comedically from start to finish, but they can flesh out their animosities towards each other so well that its timely themes of “can you trust your neighbor?” always be at the forefront.
Aside from the pitch-perfect comedy, Ruben handles the suspense around the whodunnit-with-a-werewolf angle with care, allowing horror sequences to actually feel a little scary. This often involves the werewolf in question killing something or someone off-screen, but Ruben leans into the cold, dark aesthetic to allow for palpable tension to make way for a few solid jump scares. Anyone hoping for some gnarly werewolf, bloody thrills won’t get much out of most of the runtime, but given how the meat of the story lies in the characters and their distrust in one another, the Jaws approach to the creature works to the movie’s benefit.
During a time when it seems like you can’t trust the person next door for one reason or another, the themes Werewolves certainly feel timely, if only thinly explored. The characters are mostly defined by their sillier, sometimes meaner qualities, and even the more complex exploration into Finn’s inability to conform to traditional ideas of masculinity feels more like window dressing and less like an emotional arc. By embracing the funnier, more chaotic aspects, the sweeter nature of the story and the characters is bogged down, which can undercut the more hopeful side of the message. The movie does ultimately emphasize the power of a good neighbor, and in leaning into the scarier, more violent elements, dually conveys how being a selfish member of the community just sows more division, doubt and may lead to getting yourself mauled by a beast of legend.
But even if there’s not much to the characters in terms of dimension, the cast is so damn good and Ruben so adept at making use of that the noticeable flaws in character development are very easily glided over. Werewolves Within is one of the must-see comedies of the year, and I see no way fans of murder mysteries, creature features, and/or just laughing till it hurts will walk away disappointed. If at the end of it all people walk away with a greater sense of duty to be a good neighbor, then the movie is even more of a success than I’m giving it credit for. But maybe you’re also supposed to suspect them when there might be a werewolf around? Maybe just be a good neighbor 95 percent of the time.