The good werewolf movie is a beast that’s sometimes a rare as the mythical, hairy slave to the lunar cycle itself with there not being a lycanthope movie that’s truly blown my socks off since the early 2000’s with Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers (quick side bar: there’s been plenty of great movies with werewolves in them, just not ones focusing solely on the howling bastards). This has mercifully changed with a hugely enjoyable watch of Werewolves Within, a massively entertaining horror/comedy that also doubles up as another rarity – a truly great video game flick – as it’s based on a 2016 Ubisoft puzzler from the Oculus that I’d never even bloody heard of. Even more impressively, this devastatingly sweet flick even manages to resurrect the dead sub sub genre of the werewolf whodunit movie (which I suggest we dub howl-dunits until someone can think of something better) that, to date, on includes two other movies that I can think of: 1974’s The Beast Must Die and Howling V: The Rebirth.
Painfully nice Forest Ranger Finn Wheeler arrives at his new posting, the small but hugely eccentric town of Beaverfield, only to find it’s diverse group of off-beat odd balls divided by the proposed pipeline that’s planned to run right through the center of town. Befriending fellow newbie, perky postal worker Cecily who shows him the ropes, Wheeler is introduced to gay couple Joaquim and Devon Wolfson, unbearable housewife Trisha and her handsy husband Pete, terrifying reclusive hunter Emerson, trashy garage mechanic Gwen and her beau Marcus, nosey hotel owner Jeanine and persuasive pipeline promoter Sam Parker; but Finn barely has time to get all this in order when some strange happenings start afflicting the town.
After a snow storm brings down power lines and blocks roads out of town, it’s discovered that someone’s gashed open every generator in town – this would be alarming enough on it’s own, but Finn racks up a third instance of bad news upon finding the mauled body of Jeanine’s missing husband under the porch of her hotel.
Retreating into the establishment overnight hoping that it’ll mean safety in numbers, the townsfolk of Beaverfield eventually start to believe that the one terrorising them is less a psycho and more a shape shifting werewolf and bring their individual prejudices to the fore as the fact that one of them must be the animalistic antagonist starts making everyone wildly pointing fingers at each other.
As panic and mistrust sets in like comedic rigor mortis, Finn desperately tries to maintain order, but who is the true identity of this maruading werewolf – or even weirder yet, is there even a werewolf at all? The grievances of the population of Beaverfield run pretty deep and current events have all these resentments bubbling to the surface like blood from a clawed wound…
The latest in a line of releases that could happily fall into a genre dubbed “feel-good horror”, Werewolves Within us a film that goes all in on the notion that there’s nothing wrong with being nice – even if everyone around is getting torn to shreds by a supposed lycanthope. Immediately shoving us into the life of eternal optimist Finn Wheeler, a man so giving he’s agreed to give his girlfriend the space she needs to evaluate their relationship even though it’s agonisingly apparent she’s actually breaking up with him, this happy go lucky soul has to negotiate a group of people who has let their differences fester for years.
The Wolfton’s, for example, are rich and have no need for the payout the pipeline will bring which puts them in the crosshairs of the less well off members of town who want to take the cash and fuck off to pastures new – similarly Trisha is a ghastly pain in the ass and her husband Pete is heavily rumoured to have spent some time in the sack with Gwen who, with her redneck lover Marcus, regularly incur the town’s ire with their boorish behaviour. As these cavernous differences in class, race, gender, sexuality and age collide in the enclosed spaces of the town motel, it’s left to our two genuinely adorable leads to provide a modicum of sanity and common sense and in lesser hands, the movie could easily been needlessly crass or shamelessly preachy, but thanks to an infinitely nimble script by Mishna Wolff (nuff said), Werewolves Within contains some of the best character work you’ll see all year, paws down and is elevated even further by some deftly light direction by Josh Ruben.
Filling in the shoes of Beaverfield’s dubious population is a string of vaguely famous faces that give us the most entertainingly idiotic, self-obsessed comedy suspects since 1985’s Clue that contains Harvey Guillén (the beloved Guillermo from What We Do In The Shadows), Cheyenne Jackson (American Horror Story) and Michael Chernus (Spider-Man: Homecoming) all shelling out killer lines by the dozen.
However, leading the pack (pun intended) is Sam Richardson’s endearingly good natured lead, who not only is a massive breath of fresh air for portraying a unabashed nice guy, but it’s great to see a film like this have a black lead play a role that isn’t dependent on his race – similarly, Milana Vayntrub’s quick witted Cecily is a down to earth presence who can easily hold her own as she delivers the mail in this community of opinionated weirdos.
But having quirky characters doesn’t mean jack if you don’t put them in an engrossing situation and while the whodunit nature of the film is hardly to the level of, say, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, but it’s still a gas to narrow down the who the potentially hairy suspect is – or even if they exist at all, as the fragmenting sanity of the survivors mean that they inevitably turn on each other in ways that go way beyond back handed comments and snide one liners. It’s tremendous fun with great dialogue (“Babe, don’t say Mexican. Just say stand-off.”) and infectious energy; although due to their various attitudes you can’t say that you care much if most of the townsfolk don’t make it out alive which admittedly does effect the tension slightly.
Nevertheless Werewolves Within is an absolute gem that’s dedicated itself to being as nice as it’s eternally hopeful protagonist and bluntly lays out it’s themes of the dangers that occur when communication and tolerance are lacking – hell, it even opens with with a quote from Mr Roger’s.
So in one hit we get a superlative werewolf – or should that be whowolf – flick, a solid puzzler and a first rate video game adaptation; a triple threat that’s as fun as it is genuinely adorable. Not a bad howl for a film that features multiple maulings with it’s mirthful message.