Producers: Jason Altman, Margaret Boykin, Andrew Lieberman, Natalie Metzger, Matt Mille, Benjamin Wiessner and Sam Richardson Director: Josh Ruben Screenplay: Mishna Wolff Cast: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, Wayne Duvall, Harvey Guillén, Rebecca Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins and Glenn Fleshler Distributor: IFC Films
Adapted from the titular video game but updated to the present and relocated from a medieval village to a snowy New England town called Beaverfield, Josh Ruben’s horror comedy has some amusing moments along with a few gruesome ones, but overall it’s a pretty toothless affair in terms of both laughs and scares.
The movie begins with a death, of course (see the “Jaws” template)—of a man in the wilderness at the claws of an unseen beast, thus establishing that something awful is afoot. It then introduces Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson), the mild-mannered new forest ranger assigned to Beaverfield. He quickly gets an unlikely unofficial partner in enthusiastic postal worker Cecily Moore (Milana Vayntrub) and checks into the inn run by accommodating but oddball Jeanine Sherman (Catherine Curtin), whose husband has unaccountably gone missing. He faces a hostile welcome, though, from burly anti-government recluse Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler).
Before long the town is struck by a blizzard, and a blackout follows. The residents—except for Flint, of course—congregate at the inn. They’re all stereotypes of people defined by their social status, sexual preference and political ideology. There are hard-headed conservative entrepreneur Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), who’s pushing everyone to support his project to build a natural gas pipeline in the area, and Joachim and Devon Wolfson (Harvey Guillén and Cheyenne Jackson), a rich, racially mixed gay couple of liberal bent who’ve set up a yoga studio in town.
On the other side of the social spectrum are Marcus and Gwen (George Basil and Sarah Burns), hayseeds who run the gas station, and Pete and Trish Anderton (Michael Chernus and Michaela Watkins). He’s a serial philanderer, and she an earmuff-wearing busybody who wants desperately to open a crafts shop. Finally there’s Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), a scientist who’s ensconced upstairs at the inn, doing research on the pipeline’s potential impact on the environment but ready to expand her work to look into the DNA of a strange hair found on a corpse. It suggests the presence of a lycanthrope, of course.
The frights in what follows derives from the periodic attacks of the beast in the group’s midst, which can get a bit grisly, and the mild suspense from the question of who’s the werewolf. The humor comes from the bickering among the mismatched guests as their viewpoints clash, and their understandably concerned, often frantic, reactions to the dangers they face.
But the mixture, which might remind you of the old board game “Clue” crossbred with the recent snarky whodunit “Knives Out” and a dash of Hammer horror thrown in for good measure, generates meager results. In terms of social commentary Mishna Wolff’s script hones in on obvious satirical targets and then treats them with a heavy hand rather than subtlety and wit, while Ruben encourages most of his cast to treat the dialogue with a bludgeon rather than a scalpel, playing to the gallery in a quest to extract what laughs can be gotten from the material.
The exception to the rule is Richardson, who brings a genial, eager-to-please-in-spite-of-everything vibe to the ranger. But even he can’t save the big finale, in which the werewolf’s identity is revealed in a protracted action sequence that’s much less surprising than Wolff and Ruben hope, and undermined by mediocre makeup.
Given its doubtlessly modest budget, the film’s visuals are actually quite good. Bret Tanzer’s production design makes the inn’s interior almost a character in itself, and Matthew Wise’s cinematography, though often inhibited by the cramped spaces, is effective more often than not. Brett W. Bachman’s editing could be tauter at some key points, like the finale, but brings the movie in at a relatively trim ninety-seven minutes, and Anna Drubich’s helps give the picture what momentum it possesses.
There’s some fun to be had watching “Werewolves Within.” Just not enough.