Review: Talented cast makes ‘Werewolves Within’ a blood-spattered delight
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Both funny and snappy, the horror-comedy “Werewolves Within” isn’t just easy to like, it’s easy to “get.” The screenwriter Mishna Wolff adapted the film from a video game, itself based on a popular party pastime — sometimes called “Werewolf,” sometimes “Mafia” — where players try to figure out who among them is secretly a killer. Director Josh Ruben draws on the paranoia of the premise, making a movie about a town torn apart when one of their own starts slaughtering and eating the neighbors.
A catchy concept is made even more entertaining by a cast of accomplished comic actors. Sam Richardson of “Veep” and “Detroiters” plays Finn, a kindly forest ranger who moves to a snowy little dot on the map called Beaverfield, where he quickly befriends the peppy mail-carrier Cecily (Milana Vayntrub). Cecily introduces him to the locals — played by the likes of Michaela Watkins, Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén — and gets him up to speed about their bitter dispute over a potential oil pipeline.
Wolff and Ruben use that political divide as a way to push a larger point, arguing that at this particular time in America, we don’t need the threat of an undercover monster to start snarling at each other. The actual werewolf attacks in “Werewolves Within” are few. More often, it’s the non-lupine characters yelling at each other and threatening violence.
The film’s observations about our culture of distrust can be a little pat. There’s also an overall lack of urgency or danger, related to the comedic tone. Because the characters are a bit silly, it’s hard to become too invested in whether or not they get disemboweled.
But as Ruben showed with his terrific 2020 debut feature “Scare Me,” he knows how to work with skilled actors in a confined space. As the body count piles up and the survivors shelter together, Ruben creates a real sense of a community cut off from the outside world and rapidly deteriorating.
It’s also hard to overstate what a delight it is to spend time with this cast. It’s wonderful to see Richardson’s offbeat comic energy — all mumbly and self-effacing — in a lead role. It’s especially great to see the vibrant and very funny Vayntrub taking a break from playing Lily in the AT&T commercials to do comedy again. An engaging screen presence can make even a blood-spattered tale of suspicion and betrayal into a fun night at the movies.
Rated: R for some bloody violence, sexual references and language throughout.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Starts June 25 in general release, including Laemmle Theatres, the Landmark, West L.A.; and the Frida Cinema, Santa Ana; available July 2 on digital and VOD
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