Tribeca 2021 Review: Werewolves Within

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Video game adaptations are practically always hit-or-miss, and they tend to lean (very) heavily into the “miss” category (see: Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Warcraft, etc.); while Werewolves Within doesn’t entirely buck this trend, it certainly heads in the right direction, riding on the coattails of its actors’ charms and resulting in a horror-comedy that’s a bit light on both the horror and the comedy, but nevertheless proves an amiable diversion with plenty of fun moments to spare. It probably helps that its gaming namesake is more like the game of mafia you played as a teenager than an actual narrative, leaving director Josh Ruben and Mishan Wolff ample room to inject their own sensibilities.

They’re helped by a game cast, led by Sam Richardson of Veep as Finn, a park ranger assigned to the town of Beaverfield after an unfortunate incident at his last posting. Richardson radiates an infectious likability from the moment he appears on screen and repeatedly yells “BALLS” in his car to make himself manlier. Upon arriving in town, Finn quickly meets Jeanine (Catherine Curtin) and Cecily (Milana Vayntrub of the AT&T commercials, proving here that she should be destined for greater things), the owner of the town bed and breakfast and the town’s mailperson, respectively. Cecily and Finn strike off to deliver a package to loner Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler), and go about meeting the various townspeople: there’s environmentalist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), here to protest the pipeline proposed by corporate bigwig Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall); Marcus and Gwen (George Basil and Sarah Burns), a married couple who constantly insult one another as they run the town’s auto repair shop; other couple Trish and Pete (Michaela Watkins and Michael Chernus), who staunchly support the pipeline so Trish can get money to open a craft shop; and other other couple Devon and Joaquim (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén, aka Guillermo from What We Do in the Shadows)—and yes, it’s Joaquim with an “m,” as he’s quick to remind us. 

Predictably, there’s a snowstorm and everyone gets stuck at Jeanine’s bed and breakfast after the power gets knocked out. Everything seems to be (mostly) fine until Finn stumbles upon the body of Jeanine’s missing husband, rumored to have escaped to Belize, and then the paranoia and whispers of lycanthropy set in.

Werewolves Within is never particularly scary, but it does utilize its claustrophobic setup to bounce some great comedic actors off each other with largely positive results. Richardson and Vayntrub in particular have excellent chemistry, but there is no weak link between the ensemble members, even if many of the gags go for broad topical humor rather than any sort of nuanced approach. Trish and Pete are the gun-toting, pro-pipeline, pro-America-but-in-a-very-annoying-and-aggressive-way conservative caricatures, Devon and Joaquim are the well-to-do gay yogi couple who correct your use of the phrase “Mexican standoff” and virtue signal constantly while doing very little in actuality. Like I said, not that nuanced, but fun enough for the most part (though there are certainly some jokes that fall flat regardless of political inclination). The cast by and large makes up for the flaws in the script, ensuring that the film retains a certain level of charm even when the script falters.

The final act, while not particularly surprising, features an intriguing dismantling of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, taking on casual misogyny in a fresh and inventive way—had the film spent more time with this idea, it might have soared; even undercooked, this idea was given more weight than any of the largely superficial jokes that came before, showing a glimpse of what could have been if the script handled its topics with just a little more care and subtlety. Still, even if Werewolves Within does not reach its full potential, the movie proves that not all video game adaptations are cursed.

Werewolves Within Trailer

Werewolves Within streamed as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home. Release Date TBA.

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