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Werewolves Within: The Movie Review

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Werewolves Within will have a limited theatrical release on June 25 and will be available on VOD on July 2.

Loosely based on Ubisoft’s multiplayer VR game from 2016, Werewolves Within borrows the social deduction elements from that party game to present a silly, suspenseful “whodunnit” horror-comedy. Tonally, the film doesn’t hit every comedy beat it’s aiming for, as the lines between parody and satire get blurred, but overall it’s a fierce fun time.

A blinding snowstorm and debilitating blackout trap a small group of bickering New Englanders in a remote cabin. Fueled by paranoia and ulterior motives, the gossipy gang must figure out who among them might secretly be a snarly, ravenous werewolf bent on killing and devouring the rest. That is if werewolves are even a real thing and it’s not just the work of a psycho faking wolf attacks. On paper, it’s a promising premise rife with opportunity for violent blunders and lethal misunderstandings.

And for the most part, Werewolves Within delivers, but occasionally it falls just short of huge laughs. It’s good, but there’s an even funnier film buried beneath this one. Or an even scarier one. Perhaps director Josh Ruben felt leaning too far in one direction would undercut the scares or the laughs, but trying to balance both evenly winds up taking a bite out of the final product.

Veep’s Sam Richardson (who also serves as executive producer) and Other Space’s Milana Vayntrub headline a goofy ensemble featuring Michaela Watkins (The Unicorn), Cheyenne Jackson (American Horror Story), Michael Chernus (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Catherine Curtin (Stranger Things), and more, each sort of representing a niche crackpot category of rustic small-town living.

As bucolic Beaverfield’s new park ranger, Finn, Richardson gets to be our eyes for the film’s first act, embodying a do-right doofus in all the wonderful ways Richardson can while Vayntrub’s friendly, flirty mail carrier, Cecily, catches him up on all the local gossip. Richardson and Vayntrub possess top-notch banter chops, and their characters are the least cartoonish, so the film plays at its strongest whenever they’re anchoring a scene. And Richardson is very good at reacting to absurdities in a way that makes them feel grounded and germane, be they character eccentricities or surprise atrocities.

The murder mystery element of Werewolves Within, which at times runs like Knives Out and at other times like Hot Fuzz, carries a lot of the movie, allowing the story to stretch to the point where you as the viewer may even begin to doubt whether or not there is an actual werewolf stalking the cast. The film very much utilizes the idea that the true monsters may reside inside us and that when human survival instinct kicks in, logic and empathy quickly exit. It does it so well that the ending could have gone either way and it would have still worked just fine.

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As far as the breadth of characters goes, some operate as if they’re in different movies from one another, and a few feel as if they’re in a different story than Finn and Cecily. It’s this imbalance, where the film can’t seem to decide if it’s lampooning certain archetypes or lovingly embracing them, that Werewolves Within trips up a bit. Michaela Watkins is great, but sometimes her crafting-obsessed Antifa-fearing Fur Mama, Trish, clashes too much with the drier, more deadpan humor also working.

Werewolves Within is a nice breather in a summer filled with more horror movies than usual (due to 2020’s mass delays). It’s cool and cutely cruel while also tossing in a clever twist or two. As a movie adaptation of a game, there’s not much here that necessarily tethers it to the Ubisoft game, nor are there ample Easter Eggs or hidden references, but that works out for the best.

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