Did director Joel Rubin settle the question of “what’s the best video game adaptation of all time?” with Werewolves Within? Does it count as an adaptation when producers Ubisoft’s only real direction was “make it a good movie?” I have zero familiarity with the video game, although my family are staunch fans of the hidden role game Ultimate Werewolf, itself also based on the underlying concept of a small group of folks have to figure out who among them is a werewolf. And based on that I feel like Werewolves Within is a smashing success, a horror comedy where the mystery keeps up, the frights are fun, and the pacing brisk and madcap.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Finn Wheeler is a nice guy, a forest ranger arriving for his new assignment in the picturesque town of Beaverfield. A storm traps him with the oddball inhabitants, embroiled in a standoff over whether to build a pipeline through the town, bringing much-needed financial relief to some, but destroying the beautiful ecosystem for others. That’s when all the generators are destroyed, massive claw-like marks ripping them apart. A dog goes missing, a ripped apart body is found under the porch of the local inn, and before you can mis-pronounce lycanthrope everyone is a suspect, and this microcosm of country soon starts to boil with paranoia and mistrust. is there a werewolf? Will it matter if everyone winds up liking each other first? And what’s a poor nice guy like Finn to do?
If Werewolves Within is indebted to any film, it’s Clue: the pace is furious and the chemistry between the cast is fantastic. So much of the humor relies on how the dialog is delivered and lead Sam Richardson as the affable and broken hearted Finn is magical, turning in one of my favorite performances of the year. His chemistry with the sweet but kooky mail person (it’s gender -neutral, she notes in a great line) Cecily played by the equally great Milana Nayntrub is thick and borderline uncomfortable during their more intimate moments. The whole cast is fantastic, ratcheting the comedy and tension at just the right moments to carry the story to a satisfying conclusion.
But what about the horror? Rubin isn’t looking to create serious dread or traffic in gore. Werewolves Within is a film interested in good old fashioned frights. There are a few jump scares and gory moments, but they’re played for the quick shock and release like so many classics of the past. Similar to something like Shaun of the Dead, the focus here is on comedy and telling a proper story, and its success in that is a welcome breath in 2021.
Now say it with me: “Balls. Balls. Balls. Balls!”