WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021)
Directed by Josh Ruben.
Written by Mishna Wolff.
While I’m not familiar with the video game, I am a big fan major elements of WEREWOLVES WITHIN; namely werewolves and mysteries…and Milana Vyantrub, who lately has been fighting back against online harassers and those commenting on her shapely form. God, I hope I can get through this review without pissing someone off.
When a hapless park ranger named Finn (Sam Richardson) is assigned to a small snow-covered town, he finds himself in the middle of a whodunnit when a dead body is found. Trapped in an inn with a group of likely suspects, the power goes out and Finn begins believing that one of the locals is indeed…a werewolf.
Now, I am a big fan of the 1977 Amicus film THE BEAST MUST DIE, a film that sets up a mystery and clearly states that one of the suspects is a werewolf. This film took itself pretty seriously, save for the gimmick that the film had a break three quarters through giving the audience a chance to guess who the werewolf is. I kind of wish WEREWOLVES WITHIN would have gone this route as it definitely tries to pay homage to quite a few werewolf classics of the past. Much like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, Finn is an outsider in a strange land filled with eccentric people. Much like in THE HOWLING, there is a long conversation between werewolf and victim with cool blue lighting giving off a haunting mood to the final moments of the film. All throughout there are references to lycanthropes and werewolf lore and I think had they dove all the way in and given the audience a break, it would have added a clever, yet familiar nod to another werewolf classic.
But WEREWOLVES WITHIN didn’t do that. In fact, apart from a few found dead bodies, this is a horror comedy that relies very much on the comedy aspect of that subgenre. The lines are fast. So fast, sometimes, that jokes are missed because people are talking over one another. This is a film done by clever people who know their comedy, but I feel that while that can be an asset to some films, when everyone is clever, knows it, and isn’t afraid to blurt out lines, it occasionally becomes garbled and messy. I laughed a lot at WEREWOLVES WITHIN. I think the comedic talent of Sam Richardson is strong as he embodies a wholesome character worth rooting for from beginning to end, even when everyone is giving his tendency to be “nice” a good ribbing. AT&T commercial gal Milana Vyantrub also shines here as the plucky mailperson who knows everything about everyone in the small town. The rest of the cast is a lot of fun including standouts; WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS’ Harvey Guillen, AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Cheyenne Jackson, Wayne Duvall, Michael Chernus, and SNL’s Michaela Watkins. While not as iconic or comically trained, this film feels like a “Not Ready For Prime Time” version of CLUE with people comically running around in the dark trying to kill or not be killed before the murderer/werewolf is discovered.
The antics of the film definitely overshadow any heft the story takes involving the murders. Which isn’t anything new. Death is often mocked or belittled in films as a means to cope with it. But because the tone of the film is so light and fluffy, when things attempt to get socially relevant at the end of the movie, the message falls short. This is mainly because once so many people are offed, who the werewolf is—is pretty apparent. And while an explanation/denouement is necessary in most murder mystery films, you still have to make it interesting and keeping with the tone of the film. Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t do this and simply provides a platform for someone to go on about a specific issue.
WEREWOLVES WITHIN is relatively bloodless. There are a few scenes of gore, but again, that’s not to real focus here. Instead of unsettling your gut, they want to make it jiggle with the funny and it worked quite a bit because of the talented cast.
I do want to address the elephant in the room in regards to the beautiful Miss Vyantrub and her noble fight against online bullying. Social media is one of the worst things to happen in modern society. It allows the worst in people to come out and instantly read by millions. This can be devastating when the attention is negative and hurtful and I understand why Vyantrub would come out against her online assailants who choose to be crass, rude, and downright horrible to her. That said, Vyantrub is a very attractive lady…very attractive. She’s a very attractive lady, and while I can’t fathom why someone would want to make her feel bad, I do feel that if one chooses to post selfie pics riddled with cleavage and highlights of her shapely form on public forums, your battle against objectification might be hampered a bit. I understand guys can be assholes and am not saying she deserves this type of harassment. But maybe, just maybe, if you’re out to be an actress who gets respect for her comedic and acting talents, you might not want to accentuate the very thing (or things, in this case) you complain about getting the most attention for. In WEREWOLVES WITHIN there is a very blatant and gratuitous scene where Vyantrub removes her bulky coat and starts dancing seductively in a tight-fitting tank top. It’s meant to be a jaw dropper of a moment and I admit, my own jaw went south when she shook what her momma gave her while carrying beers and pointing at the camera. It’s a thorny situation. Personally, I’d just ignore the haters and do what I do. And I guess, that’s what she’s doing. It just feels like contradictory messaging, if you ask me.
Both Richardson and Vyantrub are likable actors with strong comedic timing and I’d love to see more of them. WEREWOLVES WITHING doesn’t really deliver the mystery, gore, and most importantly, werewolves that the film suggests. But it is a funny movie that moves at a rapid pace mostly due to well timed jokes and clever ad libbing.