Edit: Wrote this all out last night and forgot to hit publish. I’m an idiot.
My enjoyment of this was enhanced by watching it (virtually) with two dear, far-off friends – both of whom had seen this before. One of them mentioned afterwards that they wished they could go back and watch it again for the first time and, since I went into this knowing nothing, I won’t spoil a thing in this post, either.
Werewolves Within, directed by Josh Ruben (and written by Mishna Wolff [WOLF!]), is based on a video game of the same name and stars Sam Robinson as Finn, a forest ranger who arrives at his new post in Beaverfield, a small town way up in what looks like the far north-east of the US. Despite the wintry chill, he’s greeted warmly by mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), who gives him a brief overview of the town and facilitates walk-by introductions with the place’s assorted inhabitants. They are…a colourful bunch. Though not literally. One instantly glorious thing about this film is how deliciously honest it is about how redneck and non-progressive such picturesque locales truly are. My pink-haired, leftist, brown-kid-of-Muslim-immigrants arse would not do well there. Though I am truly enamoured with snow.
Finn arrives at the inn where he’s staying and meets, among other residents, a businessman called Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) who’s trying to convince (re: pay off) everyone in the town to support an incoming pipeline, and the inn’s owner Jeanine Sherman (Catherine Curtin), who opposes it, along with a guest, Dr Jane Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), an environmentalist. For the most part the crackpot collection of oddballs is mostly harmless but, once a heavy storm rolls through, the power generators conk out and a mauled corpse is found, fingers start pointing and deep-seated tensions boil to the surface
So already there’s a lot of plot, but it never feels claustrophobic. The editing, direction and dialogue make the ever-escalating bickering among the townspeople the stuff of a stage play or Bob’s Burgers, rather than unfocussed messy chaos, and each of the supporting characters, although thinly drawn, are distinct enough to be memorable without being small-town caricatures. At the centre of this is Robinson, who is thoroughly likeable as Finn. Given his background in shows like Veep, The Afterparty and Detroiters (which he co-created), his comic timing is impeccable, and his sells his character journey as warm and relatable. Vayntrub is also fun to watch as Cecily and Harvey Guillén brings some cracking snark as Joaquin Wolfson [WOLF!], but it’s Michaela Watkins who often threatens to steal the show with her mildly unhinged, slightly racist local craft-a-holic Trisha. She reminds me of a more extreme version of someone I used to know in Salem.
At 97 minutes, this felt neither rushed nor overlong; pacing was a breeze, tension and jump-scares were well-placed throughout, and the story kept me guessing until the very end (even though I thought I’d sussed out this film’s deal from the beginning). Even the look of the film is engaging: bright colours, bizarre assortment of characters and its cozy, snowy setting made for an enjoyable experience. Repeat viewings might have the film feeling like it has less bite with the core mystery already unravelled after the first viewing, but this is a minor quibble that would apply to any kind of whodunnit film. Either way, definitely a fun contender for watch parties, and I’d be happy to see a sequel or a spin-off.