TRIBECA 2021: ‘Werewolves Within’ is a Mirthful Monster Mystery

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Werewolves Within

The scene: A remote mountain town locked down by deep, unforgiving snow. The players: A community divided by a proposed pipeline, the friendly new forest ranger, and the murderer hiding in plain sight. As the body count grows and secrets are revealed, forest ranger Finn and postal worker Cecily don’t know who to trust — or how much time they have left to solve the mystery. Werewolves Within dives headfirst into its premise and zany cast of characters to deliver a delightful film.

Director Josh Ruben demonstrates once again that he can deftly trace the tight rope walk of combining horror and comedy. Werewolves Within in many ways revisits and strengthens the better elements of Ruben’s previous film, Scare Me. With Werewolves Within, Ruben’s signature brand of traditional monster horror and bitingly contemporary wit and comedy fully solidifies. Alongside Ruben, Mishna Wolff provides the screenplay and stars Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub bring the loose video game adaptation to life.

In a word, Werewolves Within is charming. Cute, in fact. The film takes a youthful, non-pretentious approach to its humor that occasionally comes off as silly, but is warm and energetic. When a film gives itself permission to play it’s hard to resist being won over. So much of the charm of Werewolves Within can be credited directly to the ensemble cast. Yes, these characters and stereotypes (and the performances) are a bit predictable and many are two-dimensional — but that doesn’t automatically make it a negative.

Once again, Werewolves Within strides ahead and is fully confident in its choices. The ensemble makes for a sort of horror-comedy checklist of fun characters, that provides the basis for the simple contract of “Let’s all sit back and have fun with this.” Sam Richardson’s Finn is the well-meaning, if not a tad scattered, law enforcement. Vayntrub delivers on our quirky-in-the-expected-ways love interest. From there each of the townsfolk fall on some sort of line between conservative and liberal stereotypes to bolster the film’s political angle.

Werewolves Within is a film with two monsters: the possible werewolf and suspicion and division within the community. This premise is achieved through the familiar angle of a town viciously divided on a local political issue. It’s an efficient way to stoke enough tension and distrust to push along the whodunnit thread of the film, but the political side of Werewolves Within does occasionally work to its detriment. With some pretty clear nods to Trumpism and overt discussion of current political talking points, the sharp satirical edge of the script is dulled in the sense that it prevents Werewolves Within from ever feeling timeless. The jokes are good and the intention is solid, but being so on the nose sometimes makes the film feel like a current SNL sketch rather than a thoughtful, funny commentary.

Humor is the lifeblood of Werewolves Within. While the film is very obviously trying to hold true monster horror and humor in a 50/50 balance, the truth of the matter is that it leans heavily to comedy and works better that way. Any genuine frights are tempered with the bouncing, jovial tone, and pace. In my book, this is a positive because Werewolves Within is much better at being funny than it is being scary but fans looking for a true horror may leave feeling disappointed.

Within the candy-coated shell of its fun characters and plucky writing, Werewolves Within flies under the radar as an insightful piece on our inner monster. The murder mystery of “Who is there werewolf among us?” only works as well as it does because the film dares to explore the flaws in all of us. And how they drive us to do terrible things, potentially. Fear and blame are just as damnable as any single individual’s ill-intent. The whodunnit at the center of Werewolves Within is well constructed and adds the strong aftertaste of sophistication to this otherwise sugar-sweet horror-comedy.

Werewolves Within is a film that must be approached with the proper expectations. It is not pure horror. It is not a traditional comedy. It is super fun. Werewolves Within asks the viewer to kick back and have a good time, and the smooth, playful storytelling makes it easy to do just that. Lean into the funny, lean into the mystery, and lean into this goofy, but very talented cast. It’s the kind of light summer fare that audiences will lap up and I offer it a warm recommendation.

Werewolves Within opens in theaters on June 25 and will be available everywhere on July 2, 2021.

 

Werewolves Within
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Werewolves Within is a film that must be approached with the proper expectations. It is not pure horror. It is not a traditional comedy. It is super fun. Werewolves Within asks the viewer to kick back and have a good time, and the smooth, playful storytelling makes it easy to do just that. Lean into the funny, lean into the mystery, and lean into this goofy, but very talented cast. It’s the kind of light summer fare that audiences will lap up and I offer it a warm recommendation.