Werewolves Within Synopsis: A snowstorm traps town residents together inside the local inn, where newly arrived forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) must try to keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community.
Studios have desperately tried (and failed at) adopting marquee video game brands to the big screen. Often, these overworked adaptations forget what makes their source material inherently engaging. Simplifying a 30+ hour interactive experience into a sleight two-hour cinematic almost always leaves audiences with a bizarre mishmash of ideas. Aside from a few semi-successful examples (Mortal Kombat and Monster Hunter shine as campy popcorn entertainment), a majority of adaptations have only worked to anger gamers and casual viewers alike.
Game Publisher Ubisoft is wisely stepping into low-key storytelling with their adaptation of Werewolves Within, a 2016 VR game framed from the image of social deduction games in the Mafia genre (Among Us is a recent example). Indie director Josh Ruben and comedian/screenwriter Mishna Wolff astutely represent the game’s consuming intrigue in a loving homage to whodunits of yesteryear.
Werewolves Within embraces a genre hybrid form that feels wholly cohesive. Ruben’s direction skillfully leans into old-school horror aesthetics by morphing his low-budget assets into an earnestly makeshift presentation. From the foggy atmospheric framing to spirited uses of practical effects, each stylistic quirk helps to elevate the material’s lingering intrigue. While Ruben’s direction keeps a straight face, Wolff’s eccentric comedic bite adds a layer of self-referential humor to the familiar set-up. Her screenplay has a clever way of toying with the audience’s expectations, setting up traditionalist formula only to subvert with tongue-in-cheek twists. Our protagonist Finn serves as an adept example of this dynamic, with Wolff hinting at the character’s need to “man up” before ultimately embracing his lack of toxic cruelty.
The film’s dynamic energy works in large part due to a well-calibrated ensemble cast. It’s a joy to see Sam Richardson shinning in a starring role. As Finn, the actor’s good-natured charm and deft comedic touch provide a sturdy center for the rambunctious supporting players to work around (Richardson’s low-key quips are some of the film’s sharpest gags). Each member of the character actor ensemble helps to elevate their boilerplate roles, with Milana Vayntrub’s quippy post officer and Michaela Watkins’ nagging neighbor stealing the show through their sheer force of nature.
Very little of Werewolves Within’s lean runtime causes disinterest, but there is some room for possible refinement. Wolff’s screenplay batts around some intriguing thematic conceits, occasionally taking a look into our lingering distrust as a populous and our innate selfishness. The ideas integrate smoothly with the whodunnit presentation, yet none of Wolff’s social or societal implications render with much weight. Everything feels a bit too busy for its own good, as the tight 90-minute runtime zips along without defining a more substantive center.
For what it attempts, Werewolves Within provides a howling good time from its spirited design. It’s exciting to watch Ruben and Wolff develop into playful new voices in the horror genre. The two define the game’s semi-obscure brand into a wildly enjoyable remix of genre inspirations.
Werewolves Within opens in select theaters on June 25th before its VOD debut on July 2nd.
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