From the opening title sequence, Werewolves Within captures its audience. It brings a tone that suggests you’re not watching just any typical horror movie. This feeling carries throughout the film’s runtime, as it reveals itself as a creative and thrilling mystery. It lives up to expectations of the exciting premise. Originally a VR game from Ubisoft, Werewolves Within has taken a whole new form under IFC Films. Written by Mishna Wolff and directed by Josh Ruben, the film follows a cast of colorful characters in a small inn. Trapped in the inn due to a snowstorm, our cast of characters become increasingly hostile and untrusting as the idea of one of them being a lycanthrope (werewolf).
At the front of the story – and werewolf investigation – is forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson). Moreover, postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) also joins Finn in this inquiry, a charming co-lead for the film. Finn provides a great perspective for the audience to be introduced to the town of Beaverton and the eccentric town members. From the moment we step foot in Beaverton, the atmosphere of the film becomes one of unease and distrust. Ruben is able to handle this tone of uneasiness in a way that doesn’t make the audience uncomfortable. That is thanks to the much-needed moments of levity sprinkled throughout, making humor of the tense divisions between the residents.
The on-screen energy between the residents is electric. Behind all the division and strife is oil tycoon Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall). Wanting to make a pipeline going through Beaverton, half the residents want to take the pay. However, the other half want to stay in Beaverton and decline Parker’s pay. As a result, the division and strife come easy, much to Sam’s amusement. The talent that makes up Beaverton is what carries the film as well. With the likes of Annie Krueger, Glenn Fleshler, George Basil, Catherine Curtin, and more, this stacked cast is more than enough to make this film worthwhile.
Moreover, the mixture of horror, comedy, and the tropes that come with a werewolf movie isn’t something that should work. At least, not work as well as it does in this film. Credit is due to Wolff and Ruben, the writing-directing duo whose sharp sense of story and comedy handle the mystery well. Throughout the film there is a meta mystery not only who the werewolf is but if there is even a werewolf at all. Werewolves Within could even be a title with a double meaning, with the mythical creature possibly being something as metaphorical as it is literal. That’s just the kind of storytelling you deal with when watching this film, and it makes for some evocative viewing.
Not all of the characters land, though. However, the majority are still able to provide convincing enough performances that add to the dynamic of the rag tag group and their story. Characters like Rebecca Henderson’s Dr. Jane Ellis are only there to move the story forward, but are still charming enough to make their mark on the picture. All in all, the film strikes and OK balance of character and story.
The majority of the film takes place in the small inn and the main center of the small town of Beaverton. This limited amount of sets frees the production design to provide more intricate detail to every location. Everything feels lived in and fits the aesthetic of a small town at that time of year. The environment of this murder mystery in the inn creates a great horror environment as well. Enclosed hallways and cramped gathering areas only raise the tensions of both the audience and our characters.
Werewolves Within also manages to convey a poignant and timely theme in all the werewolf madness as well. From the beginning with a touching and surprisingly placed quote, Werewolves wishes to demonstrate one thing. The need for someone to just be a good neighbor. This comes out the most through our protagonist Finn. From beginning to end, Richardson plays the protagonist with authenticity, kindness, and empathy. His efforts to bring the town together and to find common ground in the madness is admirable.
Whether battling the metaphorical werewolf within or the literal one, Forest Ranger Finn does his best. Whether or not it is enough is up for the audience to decide. Nevertheless, Werewolves Within is a no-holds-barred horror flick with a great balance of levity and a strong supporting cast. It’s sure to be considered one of the great Werewolf films down the line and is one that should be seen in theaters if possible. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Werewolves Within is now playing in theaters and available on VOD.