We all know the setup — a storm rolls through a small town, leaving a rag-tag group of townies trapped in a cabin together with something lurking in the shadows, picking them off one by one as they race against time to figure out what or who it is. That’s also the premise of Werewolves Within, but on top of that, it’s an adaptation of a video game (Never heard of it? Me either, but I digress) which we all know is hard to pull off. But somehow, Josh Ruben’s Werewolves Within delivers, making it fun and enjoyable to watch. Couple that with a witty script (there’s even a message buried in there) and an all-star cast that really leans into its quirkiness, and this is a film well worth the time.
New park ranger Finn, played by perfectly cast Sam Richardson (shoutout to the Black park rangers…love to see it), arrives in the small town of Beaverfield right as things start to get a little bit wonky. Not only is the town in the middle of a squabble about a proposed pipeline, but there’s also a snowstorm on a collision course with the town. As the snow rolls in and traps a very eclectic group of town folks in the local bed and breakfast, dead bodies (and dogs) start to pop up along with what seem to be werewolves slash and bite marks. Now it’s a fight for survival to find and kill (or trap depending on who you ask) the beast before it takes them all out. But little to do they know, it might just be one of them in the house, so the group embarks on a telling and hilarious whodunit.
When the film opens with a Mister Roger’s quote and the super creepy music in the background, you know you’re in for a quirky treat. The first scene is new park ranger Finn on his way to his new post listening to a woman leading a self-help tape about becoming a “man’s man.” So we’re setting the tone early. Finn is a bonafide nice guy, but is he too nice? (He kind of gives Steve from Brickleberry vibes — but a lot smarter). So from jump, we have a feeling that Finn just might be getting in over his head. He’s being told at every turn that he needs to be a tad bit more assertive and that being nice never wins out.
As Finn tries to get acquainted with his new town, he quickly comes to realize that his new fellow town folk are quite a “freak show.” There’s the brash gun-toting couple Marcus (George Basil) and Gwen (Sarah Burns) (who are one moment all over each and the next at each other’s throats), the off-kilter couple of dog-obsessed Trisha (Michaela Watkins) and her philandering husband Pete (Michael Chernus) and pipeline executive Sam (Wayne Duvall) who are all in favor of placing the pipeline in the town. On the other side of the issue is overly accommodating B&B owner Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), town outsiders, and resident gay couple Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and Joaquim (Harvey Guillén), and zoologist/scientist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson). And then there’s the new mail carrier Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) — who to Finn hits it off with immediately even though she seems too good to be true — and Emerson (Glenn Fleshler), the wild mountain man who’s giving off strong Jeremiah Johnson hermit vibes. Both sides are at odds, and all of them know to steer clear of Emerson. But when things get dicey, they must work together to survive and suss out the wild lycanthrope culprit.
Throughout Werewolves Within, you can see Ruben’s love for the Coen Brothers and Hot Fuzz come through in the look, feel, and overall vibe and pacing of the film. People can be scarier than anything lurking outside in the woods, and the mix of visual scares with perfect comedic timing. But this film would be just like any other comedy horror film if it weren’t for screenwriter Mishna Wolff’s script.
When everyone is in the room trying to figure out who could be the werewolf, the conversation is hilarious as their petty resentments start to bubble over. Everyone’s pointing fingers giving it a Knives Out/Agatha Christie type vibe — those are always fun and engaging. And of course, everyone’s side-eyeing the new guy and the hermit. Although obviously funny on the surface, Wolff tackles gender politics and ideas of masculinity with Finn wrestling with his identity and the somewhat role reversal between him and Cecily. She also tackles the current division in our country in these small towns between the folk who have always lived there and the more “posh” city folks who are encroaching on their territory — gentrification is not just for urban areas. But at its heart, Wolff’s story is about a man’s coming-of-age in which he realizes that he’s perfectly fine just the way he is.
But furthermore, Werewolves Within would languish on the page without the standout performances from Richardson and Vayntrub and the chemistry between the ensemble cast of character actors. Sam Richardson seems to be made for this role. His comedic chops finally get the platform they deserve as he leads this film. Milana Vayntrub totally eats her role in the best way possible — she so embodies the effortlessly cool outsider. And the rest of the cast brings their A-game to the table, making Werewolves Within quite the fun rollercoaster while teaching us in the end that it’s okay to be nice, we should all just strive to be good neighbors (just like Mister Rogers taught us), and good will always defeat evil.