In 2016, video game company Ubisoft decided to capitalize on the classic party game Werewolf by turning it into a VR horror experience they called Werewolves Within. Now, Ubisoft has gone a step further, turning the game that once ran simply on the imagination of spooky nerds into a feature length film, which is debuting at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. To do so, they’ve brought on Josh Ruben, creative force behind last year’s Shudder sensation Scare Me. Like the makers of the video game, Ruben tells the story of a small town in trouble; one of their number is a werewolf, and the town has to band together to figure out who before the beast strikes again. Whether the townsfolk are actually capable of doing that is not nearly as certain.
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EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT
Werewolves Within is a classic murder mystery featuring a cast of suspects all played by comedians at the top of their game. Like 1985’s Clue: The Movie, it’s that cast that really makes this film shine. Leading the pack (ha! werewolves!) is Sam Richardson as Finn, the newly appointed town ranger and the film’s detective. Known for his roles in Veep and I Think You Should Leave, Richardson’s character is split into two roles. In the first, he’s a pure soul, hilariously forced into a bloody nightmare. And in the second, Richardson plays the “straight man,” the voice of reason in a group of fools, who reacts to absurdity like we, the audience, do.
That group of fools features characters so funny you’ll wish the film was spread out into an entire comedy series. Harvey Guillén (known to horror fiends as Guillermo of TV’s What We Do In The Shadows) and Broadway-famous Cheyenne Jackson play a wealthy couple who take every liberal stereotype to its max, while Saturday Night Live‘s Michaela Watkins and Orange is the New Black‘s Michael Chernus play a gun-toting, Bible-thumping, creepy and traditional conservative couple. Crashing‘s George Basil and Wet Hot AmericanSummer‘s Sarah Burns form potentially the best duo in the film as a pair of blue-collar townies with get-rich-quick ambitions. Stranger Things’ Catherine Curtin is the owneer of the inn where most of the film takes place, and Hannibal‘s Glen Fleshler plays the last of the long-term residents of Beaverfield; a wolf-coat sporting outdoorsman who likes to be left alone and, well, seems a whole lot like a werewolf.
“Werewolves Within is a classic murder mystery featuring a cast of suspects all played by comedians at the top of their game.”
Less manic but equally important are the out-of-towners that feature in Werewolves Within, starting with RussianDoll‘s Rebecca Henderson. While Richardson and the townsfolk bring the comedy to the movie, Henderson’s visiting scientist character brings the horror. Not only does she play the role creepily herself, but it’s when she starts suspecting the supernatural that the story starts really getting spooky. Another more sinister than silly role is Wayne Duvall (of A Quiet Place Part II fame), a menacing oil man with plans to tear up the wilderness of Beaverfield. And last but in no way least is Milana Vayntrub as Cecily, Beaverfield’s new mailperson (“gender is a construct,” she says) and potential romantic interest for Finn. Vayntrub plays expertly off the nerdy charm of Richardson’s Finn, and the pair’s scenes together are some of the funniest in the movie. But we’ll get back to the comedy in a moment.
As anyone who’s ever played Werewolf knows, a lot of the fun comes down to the narrator. Do they tell the story in an engaging way, including everyone at the party? Do they make what’s happening very clear, so that everyone has an equal chance to figure out who the werewolf is? While there’s no one person that serves as a narrator in Werewolves Within, it’s the script’s job to make sure that both of these things happen within the movie. And though it succeeds in so many ways, there are a few places where the script of the film is lacking.
Though the film features some absolutely brilliant, there are still a few jokes that don’t quite land, that feel forced into a scene to try for more laughs. Still, that’s a fairly small problem. The most notable holes in the script come from confusing character choices. Occasionally, characters will jump to conclusions or put themselves in needless danger just to keep the story moving. And while it’s easy to overlook poor logic in horror movie characters (“There’s a killer outside? Let’s split up!”), there are a few places where their inexplicable actions take away from the movie. Instead of being wrapped up in one scene, you’ll occasionally find yourself wondering about the last.
“The most notable holes in the script come from confusing character choices.”
That said, those snags don’t last too long before you’re back in the story, laughing and screaming along with the hilarious characters. Though the details are a little rough, the film’s overarching plot is both engaging and satisfying. Werewolves Withinis a puzzle with so many beautiful pieces; if you have to jam together a few mismatching ones to create the whole, so be it. It’s well worth the effort.
THE LUPINE COMEDY
And the reason it’s so worth it is this: Werewolves Withinis a triumph of horror comedy, worthy to be in the same category as What We Do In The Shadows. From its ridiculous character dynamics to its gory gallows humor, there are enough laughs in Werewolves Within to fill an entire season of TV. Indeed, fans of small town situational comedies like Parks & Rec, The Office, and Schitt’s Creekwill adore the antics of Beaverfield’s weirdos and how they choose to interact with the death around them.
“Werewolves Within is a triumph of horror comedy, worthy to be in the same category as What We Do In The Shadows.”
That’s not to say there aren’t some genuine frights as well. As we mentioned earlier, Rebecca Henderson’s gloomy scientist brings an air of dread to the story, but even beyond that, the movie is obviously made by a talented horror director. Rubin’s use of the space of the inn, with all its dark corners and winding hallways, puts the viewer in the action during the most suspenseful scenes. Ubisoft’s Werewolves Within is, after all, a VR game, and the film does a great job adapting the feeling of being in the story.
As a spooky nerd myself, I’ve played my share of Werewolf. Though I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never played the VR version, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed my time as either a peasant, hunter, or lycanthrope itself. So when I was watching Werewolves Within, the chief question on my mind was simply this: will this movie be as fun as playing the game? And the answer to that is a resounding YES. I had as much fun looking for clues, suspecting everyone, and fearing the strike of the werewolf as I would while playing the titular party game. Like Clue, another game turned movie, Werewolves Within will delight fans of creepy gaming and deserves status as a cult classic.
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Review: WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2019)
WEREWOLVES WITHIN is both a classic murder mystery featuring a cast of suspects all played by comedians at the top of their game, and a genuinely scary creature feature.