Horror comedy, when done right, is splendid and harmonious. Werewolves Within (from Scare Me actor/director Josh Ruben) feels like someone put Cursed and Knives Out into a blender—the black humor is well-structured, and the ensemble a fulfilling collection of character actors. It is a clever whodunnit with a wolfy, razor-sharp twist.
The film starts with a Mr. Rogers quote about loving your neighbors, which turns out to be key to unlocking the larger themes. Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson), a naive by-the-book forest ranger, has been newly assigned to Beaverfield Inn to oversee a pipeline construction. In a setup that evokes big ensemble comedies of yesteryear like Clue or the snowy secluded landscape of 2015’s Krampus, a big snowstorm rolls in, and traps Wheeler with a collection of outrageous local denizens. The storm takes out not only the power, but all outside communication. One by one, the eclectic towsfolk—including Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), the local mailman, and Cheyenne Jackson’s athletic curmudgeon participating in a triathlon, disappear one by one. Sarah Burns, as the obsessive dog owner whose pet “only barks at Jews and brown people,” is a hilarious highlight. One of them is a killer… Something (or someone) is brutally murdering those left stranded inside the old lodge. Finn must step up to the plate and protect the residents from succumbing to a grisly fate.
A buildup of the whodunit mystery of it all works well, causing you to question every bizarre character quirk and line of sassy dialogue. Who is the wolf? “I’m not a cockamamie wolf!” Jeanine (Catherine Curtain) insists, while another character boasts that “we’re innocent AF!” The second I spotted a cute little doggie, I had a feeling the poor little guy wasn’t going to make it through the night. The deaths are memorable and fast-paced, with the most iconic of all being a double kill. The soundtrack is just as engaging as the thrills and twists of the script. An axe-throwing sequence set to Ace of Base’s “The Sign” is set up by an earlier interaction with the 90’s jukebox at The Axe Den—it’s probably the best scene in the entire movie. The soundtrack itself is very fun, with a horror score underlying the most suspenseful, nail-biting sequences.
Werewolves Within wears horror nods on its sleeve—there is one part where a character has a knife-glove that’s an overt Freddy Kreuger reference. I didn’t even realize it was based on a popular VR game by Ubisoft (though I was surprised to see the company’s logo appear when it began), so I guess strictly by default, this is one of the best video game movies ever? With quotable dialogue, stylish small-town hijinks, and a cast that is game for literally anything, Werewolves Within is one majorly fun howler.
Werewolves Within screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival on June 16th and barks at the moon in limited release theaters on June 25th. A video on demand release will follow on July 2nd, from IFC Films.