One Night Ultimate Werewolf: The Movie – Werewolves Within Review
Werewolves Within, which is written by Mishna Wolff and directed by Josh Ruben, is a fun, lightweight and surprisingly charming horror-comedy with an entertaining concept and an excellent ensemble of comic performers. In this homage to cozy whodunit mysteries with a grisly werewolf twist, the spirit of the iconic TV personality, Mr. Rogers – represented here by kindly, idealistic park ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) – is challenged when the residents of a small New England town, selfishly divided over the proposed establishment of a pipeline, start to eat themselves alive.
Shortly after arriving in Beaverfield for his new job, Finn and the town’s flirty postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) take a tour and meet the local crazies. Amongst them are Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), a hipflask-slugging businessman attempting to buy off the land for the pipeline, Jeanine Sherman (Catherine Curtin), the owner of the local inn whose husband has recently disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and Trish Anderton (Michaela Watkins, Casual), an eccentric craft shop owner.
Finn and Cecily’s journey culminates at the property of an intimidating hermit and hunter, Emerson Flint (what a name!), who is played by a heavily-bearded Glenn Fleshler (Barry). He has very aggressive “get off my lawn” vibes, has removed himself from the petty business of the other residents and doesn’t take kindly to Finn’s neighbourly curiosity.
After a snowstorm traps everyone (with the exception of the reclusive Flint) inside the inn, and they learn that the generators have been sabotaged, it is up to Finn to keep the peace and uncover the truth. Flint is the prime suspect but creature sightings and a ‘scientifically-tested’ werewolf theory arouse new suspicions, with finger-pointing, hand-mauling, self-preservation and betrayal ensuing.
In this microcosm of a divided America the idea of being neighbourly has been extinguished. The film opens with a quote from Mr. Rogers – “Listening is where love begins. Listening to ourselves and then our neighbours.” – but Werewolves Within takes a cynical stance on this sentiment. Finn believes in this rallying strategy, but soon learns that it’s useless in a place when everyone is not only gun-toting and looking out for themselves, but may also be a werewolf willing to chew through everyone to survive. Everyone is afraid of finding themselves vulnerable to a monster (or an eager gas company, as it may be) and this leads to abnormal and irrational behaviour.
The interactions between the cast bring the very funny screenplay to life. It is great to see Richardson, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Richard Splett on Veep, in such a prominent role. He has mastered the awkward but instantly likeable everyman, who stammers through uncomfortable interactions with a mix of anxiety and bewilderment. His pairing with an excellent Vayntrub makes for some especially cute moments. His attempts to overcome a personal crisis of masculinity and start to “man up” become more than an emotionally-taxing ambition, but a necessity, as he is called to action to investigate the mystery while attempting to unite these very silly people through, well, common sense.
As an audience we are tasked to interpret the clues provided and assess the locals’ increasingly-shady motivations. Werewolves Within reminded us of a game of ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’, a classic social deduction tabletop game where players are assigned the role of villager or werewolf. After a night phase, where players manipulate the game state by taking an action on call, an animated group discussion concludes with everyone making an accusation as to the werewolf (s) identity. It’s a great game. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that Werwolves Within was actually inspired by a similarly premised multiplayer VR game, published back in 2016 by Ubisoft.
The suspects here are all compelling in their own way, and because they all act a bit foolish the film’s playful tone outshines the still-competent scares. The film possesses a breathless pace and is embellished with memorable eccentricities, while the creature attacks are genuinely tense and have a well-judged gruesomeness.
In short: Werewolves Within makes just the right transformations between creature-feature bite, whodunit intrigue and loopy character interaction to potentially become a classic. At a troubling time when it’s safer to stay indoors, and be naturally a little suspicious of your neighbours, it may also offer some lessons in civility and acceptance.
Werewolves Within is available to buy from September 8, or rent from September 22, in the Fetch Movie Store.