Werewolves Within (2021)

JUNE 27, 2021


I knew I'd be on board with Werewolves Within's brand of humor instantly, when the film opened with a quote set to ominous music, as many horror movies do, only to attribute (with a Halloween style musical sting) the quote to Mr Rogers. That's the sort of dry/weird joke I love, and the same subtle/nervous comedy kept me cackling throughout most of the movie's runtime, though it won't obviously be as funny for everyone (in particular the gentleman to my left, who was sitting next to my assigned seat and thus was either sitting in the wrong seat or a sociopath, so it wasn't surprising he was also a humorless tool as I don't think he laughed once). That, along with the very limited werewolf action, might make it a tough sell for some.

To be clear, this is not a "horror comedy" the way American Werewolf in London is - it's a straight up comedy that may or may not have a werewolf in it. In the opening scene, a man is killed by something offscreen, and when his body is discovered a month later (you know, when the moon is full again) it is determined that an animal did it. However the residents of this isolated small town also discover that their generators have all been destroyed, which suggests it was done on purpose, something an animal wouldn't know to do. And thus the werewolf theory is brought up, but it's not until the film's climax that we are given a firm answer of whether or not it is indeed a lycanthrope or someone just using the myth to get around and do what they need to do.

Instead it's kind of a riff on The Thing or something along those lines, where everyone is holed up in one spot (a hotel in this case) and accusing each other of being the culprit. The residents are at odds due to a proposed new pipeline that will require some of them to sell their land; some of them are all for the idea (due to the money it'll bring in for them), others lived there specifically for the scenery and do not want it all torn up for what may be an environmental hazard. Add in an affair and some low key political disagreements ("Lock her up" is invoked) and you have the makings of a solid paranoia story, where everyone has a good motive for offing some of the others and (as the title suggests) more than one guilty party - werewolf or not - is likely.

And caught in the middle is our hero, Finn (Sam Richardson) a ranger who just arrived in town and is possibly the only sane person in the film. His guide around town is Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), the lone mailperson and possible love interest for the recently dumped Finn, and the two of them have terrific chemistry that can always be counted on to tide over some of the film's slower spots. Because the script is designed to not tell you whether or not it really is a werewolf until it absolutely has to, not much happens in terms of "horror" for long stretches of the film - in fact, at one point a character is killed off screen entirely in order to preserve the mystery that much longer. Some horror comedies can still work on you even if you're not a fan of the style of humor, because there's enough of the horror element to keep you invested (Slither comes to mind as a well balanced example), but with this one... if you're not laughing a lot after ten minutes or so, you might as well just cut your losses.

Luckily for me I was very much on its humor wavelength. At times I was reminded of Drowning Mona, a dark comedy from 2000 that, despite its cast (Danny DeVito, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Will Ferrell, Casey Affleck...) has never really found its reappraisal, but if you're a fan of that one you should find lots to like here. I am not as familiar with Richardson as many as I didn't watch Veep or Detroiters, but he's been someone who always managed a few good laughs out of me whenever he popped up in supporting parts (his "Baby of the Year" sketch on I Think You Should Leave was one of that A+ series' best moments) so I was delighted to see him taking lead duties. Half of his role is basically just reacting to the nonsense around him ("Never the left" nearly killed me, for those who have seen it), and most of that nonsense is funny itself, so I rarely stopped chuckling in any scene where more than two or three people were involved.

This unfortunately means that once the body count starts to rise, it gets less funny, though it's still not really coming off a "horror movie" (by design, I should stress). With less people to bounce jokes off, the laughs become a little more scattered, which wouldn't be an issue if they had ramped up the werewolf concept, but alas - that opening scene is about as scary/suspenseful as it gets, at least until the climax. It's not a crippling flaw, but again, if you aren't as amused by its comedic stylings as I was, I can see how this stretch of the film might be interminable. There's also one actor who doesn't seem to realize they're in a comedy, so they tend to throw off the chemistry a bit (and yet are also one of the last to make their exit), so I couldn't help but think if their role was played by someone with a little more pep that they might have smoothed over this minor rough patch.

Otherwise it's a real gem, and I was happy I got to see it in a theater with a mostly appreciable crowd, as the lack of that sort of energy can be deathly when you're watching this kind of film alone at home (it's coming to VOD like, this week). I was also surprised to see the Ubisoft logo at the top; I knew there was a game with the title but I didn't realize this was actually a licensed adaptation (albeit one that has almost nothing in common with the source material beyond the title and basic concept of trying to figure out who is a werewolf; even the setting is different). Maybe that guy next to me was a game fan, angry at how much they changed? But whatever; the game doesn't have Milana Vayntrub spiritedly dancing along to Ace of Base's "The Sign" or Sam Richardson shouting "BALLS!" over and over at the advice of a self-help tape on how to be more manly, so I'm gonna go ahead and say they made the right call.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. This movie was worth my time if only for the shouting of 'BALLS' repeatedly


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