“Werewolves Within,” directed by Josh Ruben, follows Finn (Sam Richardson), a forest ranger who arrives in the small town of Beaverfield. There, Finn meets a wide cast of colorful characters, including the plucky mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) and the greedy oil tycoon Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall.) After a snowstorm sequesters everyone to the local inn, it becomes clear that someone is secretly a werewolf, forcing the group to figure out the monster’s identity before they are all killed.
The film is based off of a Ubisoft game of the same name which is an adaptation of the classic party game “Werewolf,” sometimes referred to as “Mafia.” These games are fairly straightforward: one player is secretly assigned to be the werewolf and it is up to the other players to discover the werewolf over a series of rounds. It’s a classic hidden role game filled with deception and mystery.
“Werewolves Within” does a great job replicating this format. The film’s huge ensemble of characters makes for a strong whodunnit setup and each one has a compelling motivation to kill the others. As characters start to die, the tension in finding the culprit rises fast. This structure mimics the game perfectly, truly feeling like what would come out of a filmed version of a typical game of Werewolf.
Despite its grim theme, Werewolf is typically lighthearted. It’s most often played at parties, where werewolf accusations among friends can lead to hilarity and deaths are often silly. It is a game after all, leading players not to take it too seriously. This is the area in which “Werewolves Within” works best. From start to finish, the movie is funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The characters make quick banter and there are a few running gags throughout the film. Every member of the cast delivers a strong, hammy performance, with everyone getting at least one moment to shine.
Just about all of these jokes land. The one exception is when the film makes jokes that are relevant to modern issues, like jokes about Trump or Antifa fear mongering. Sometimes these jokes work, but more often than not, they feel more cringey than clever. The film is at its best when its humor is character-based rather than based on topics outside of the story.
The comedy in “Werewolves Within” is balanced well by the scary side of the film. The movie is closer to a mystery thriller than a full-on horror movie, but there are a few genuine scares and unsettling sequences. The building tension is mixed in the comedy, allowing one side to accentuate the other. The two sides manage to compliment one another, rather than ever get in each other’s way.
While the tone is just right, there are a couple of things that hold back the movie from being great. The few issues with the movie mostly boil down to pacing and story problems. First of all, the film gives away too much too soon. There are some hints toward the werewolves identity that are likely intended to be subtle, but instead essentially put a metaphorical, flashing “I’m the Werewolf” sign on one character’s chest for the rest of the movie. The film tries to hint towards other culprits, but fails to draw suspicion away from the obvious culprit, ultimately undercutting what could have been an interesting third act reveal. The film also takes nearly an hour to first introduce a werewolf as the reason for the killings, opting to show the characters slowly figuring out this supernatural turn. This part of the mystery falls flat because the film is called “Werewolves Within.” The audience has to wait too long for the characters to catch up to what they already know.
Fortunately, these issues don’t bring down the quality of the film too much. “Werewolves Within” is still a fun and charming mix of comedy and horror that serves as both a strong adaptation and an engaging new story.
“Werewolves Within” is now showing in theaters.
By Ben Lindner