When it comes to films based on video games, the track record over the past 25+ years has been something less than stellar. Of the dozens of live-action adaptations, Rotten Tomatoes has only graded 2 — Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog — as Fresh, while 11 of them have a meager 10% critical approval to their name. Given all this, it’s not much of an overstatement to call Werewolves Within the strongest such adaptation to date. Derived from the 2016 virtual reality game, it may not be as well known as titles like Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat but the framework of its deduction-based playing mechanics align perfectly with the whodunit movie genre. This ended up also being the case for the 1985 cult classic Clue, almost certainly the best film based on a board game.
The setting of this claustrophobic mystery is the blustery village of Beaverfield, where good-hearted forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) has recently arrived for his latest posting. He’s assigned to oversee the construction of a proposed gas pipeline that has created division amongst the otherwise genial folk of the quaint town. As he checks into the local inn, the town’s chipper postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) catches him up on Beaverfield’s most notable citizens, who incidentally find themselves all under the same roof thanks to a fierce snowstorm. Gossip about a werewolf loose in town combined with foul play near a backup generator that leaves the inn-mates without power leads them to point fingers at one another in hopes of finding out who’s responsible for the mischief that’s afoot.
Director Josh Ruben follows up last year’s Scare Me with another comedy horror film largely confined to a single location, relying on some creative camera tricks and swift editing to make up for the modest budget. Where Werewolves Within distinguishes itself is in its eclectic and well-cast cavalcade of players, integral for a whodunit like this to really take off. It may not have the star power or lavish production design of something like Knives Out but these lesser-known actors make the most of their revolving screen time as they poke through alibis and assign motives to one another. If the movie has a weak point (a silver bullet, perhaps) on the directing side of things, it’s that the squabbling between the Beaverfieldians can make an already crowded movie feel a bit overstuffed.
Thanks to born-to-do-this screenwriter Mishna Wolff, the accusatory dialogue between the townspeople is often as chilly as the howling winds that blow outside the wooded inn. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Trish, but everything in these woods eats tiny little dogs,” one townsperson blithely blurts out to a grieving dog mom while neglecting to break direct eye contact with his phone. Wolff also works in some cheeky nods to the country’s current sociopolitical divide that don’t have all that much bite but also aren’t likely ruffle the fur of audiences, regardless of their political inclinations. After all, the spirit and words of Fred Rogers are unironically invoked several times during the movie and if his message of compassion and empathy leaves viewers cold, then there may be no hope for them anyway.
The guilty party or parties may remain hidden for most of Werewolves Within but fortunately, the film is a constant comedic spotlight for two possibly familiar faces who will hopefully score more starring roles in the future. Sam Richardson, who’s popped out in brilliant TV series from Veep to I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, is perfect as a perky straight man trying to ease tensions among the paranoid townspeople. Milana Vayntrub, who sports some outstanding comedic instincts here, may be even more recognizable not from a television show but rather from a ubiquitous series of AT&T commercials that have aired since 2013. The two have an infectious on-screen chemistry that make Werewolves Within a great pick for your next movie night, whether you’re snowed in or not.
Score – 3.5/5
More new movies streaming this weekend:
Streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime is The Tomorrow War, a sci-fi action movie starring Chris Pratt and J. K. Simmons depciting a war against an alien invasion and mankind’s new ability to draft soldiers from the past to help fight the aliens.
Streaming exclusively on HBO Max is No Sudden Move, a period crime thriller starring Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro about a group of small-time criminals whose plan to steal what they think is a simple document goes awry.
Streaming exclusively on Netflix is America: The Motion Picture, an adult animated comedy starring Channing Tatum and Olivia Munn that re-imagines the American Revolution through a more colorful and intentionally anachronistic perspective.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup