How can you not be drawn to a movie that’s best described as a ‘small town werewolf horror-comedy’? It’s a fitting description on “Werewolves Within”, a wacky new film directed by Jack Ruben that’s actually based on a 2016 virtual reality game of the same name. The movie isn’t all that interested in the well-worn werewolf mythologies that have been handed down through generations. Instead it’s about communities and the wild potpourri of people that often make them up.
“Werewolves Within” sounds like a horror movie and certainly borrows from the genre. But it’s just as much an uneven yet crafty whodunit with a satirical bite. It stars a terrific Sam Richardson who plays Finn, a forest ranger and all-around nice guy who arrives at the sleepy Vermont town of Beaverfield. He’s been assigned there after some mishaps at his old post. The first person he runs into is a peppy mail carrier named Cecily (TV’s infectiously charming AT&T sales rep Milana Vayntrub) who gives him an introduction to community with consists of a veritable collage of colorful zany characters.
The movie really is all about this wild assortment of characters and Ruben along with screenwriter Mishna Wolff unload most of the town’s drama through them, a lot of it revolving around a proposed pipeline. Comprising the small eccentric population is the town’s innkeeper Jeanine (Catherine Curtin) who mutters about her absent husband and makes a mean sandwich. There’s the aggressively weird Trish (Michaela Watkins) and her creepy husband Pete (Michael Chernus). You have the corporate pipeline pusher Parker (Wayne Duvall) and the bone-dry environmentalist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson). Add in a cartoonish gay couple (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén) and the dimwitted redneck husband and wife (George Basil and Sarah Burns). Meanwhile the town hermit Flint (Glenn Fleshler) lives in the woods and pretty much hates them all.
This peculiar bunch is brought together when a snowstorm knocks out the power and closes the roads leading in and out of town. To make matters worse, signs suggest a razor-clawed beast of some kind is roaming around the area. Of course the film’s title lets us know that it’s not a possum as one of the oddballs hilariously suggest. The group gathers in the Beaverfield Inn to wait out the storm. But when people start dying inside suspicion and paranoia sets in. The panicking neighbors begin accusing each other while never passing on the chance to air out some old local baggage.
Through it all the movie never loses its sense of humor. In fact this is very much a straight comedy built upon some familiar horror movie framework. Some of the funniest bits come with watching Finn’s bewildered face as he watches and listens to this motley group of townsfolk. Wolff fills their mouths with some of the most outlandish stuff and the performances relay it with hilarious conviction. The dialogue is full of laughs that range from subtle to wildly absurd.
Unfortunately the movie doesn’t quite hold together in the final act. While attempting to bring everything to a close it loses some of its charm and originality. And as the story locks into a more predictable movie formula, some of the characters fare considerably better than others. It all culminates in an ending that doesn’t exactly satisfy. With that said, the film’s comedy element carries it through. Wolf’s script along with a cast full of game performances had me laughing more than I ever expected. “Werewolves Within” opens June 25th in theaters and July 2nd on VOD.