The set-up for Werewolves Within is familiar: a newcomer to a small town realises there’s something very strange about his new neighbours and surroundings. But the horror-comedy — directed by Josh Ruben, written by Mishna Wolff, and based on the Ubisoft VR game — leans into the “comedy” side of that genre designation, painting its characters with broad but funny strokes and styling its story more like an old-school murder mystery than a creature feature.
Fleeing a professional blunder as well as a relationship that’s wheezing toward a break-up, an affable park ranger named Finn (Sam Richardson of Veep, Detroiters, and the upcoming Tomorrow War) pulls into the snowy small town of Beaverfield, unaware that his latest posting will introduce some entirely new stressors into his life. (Thanks to a prologue, in which a mysterious man is attacked by… something, we know more than Finn about what lies ahead.) It doesn’t take long for him to get the lay of the land, thanks to the awkwardly cute and gossipy mail carrier, Cecily (Milana Vayntrub, the voice of Squirrel Girl on Marvel Rising). That said, nobody in Beaverfield is especially shy about airing their business, especially when it comes to their feelings on an issue that’s been dividing the town of late: an oil company’s desire to build a pipeline through it. Some folks hope to make a buck off the construction project; others are more concerned about its environmental impact.
Just as Finn’s starting to settle in, the dominoes of plot conflict begin to fall. A storm blocks the road to Beaverfield and the power goes out, stranding most everyone at the inn where Finn, Cecily, and a visiting scientist (Rebecca Henderson) have been staying. The locals include the innkeeper (Catherine Curtin), the oil company rep (Wayne Duvall), a redneck couple (George Basil and Sarah Burns), a MAGA couple (Michael Chernus and Michael Watkins), and a gay couple (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén); the local mountain man/militia guy (Glenn Fleshler) is also lurking around. Tensions, already sky-high, erupt volcanically once everyone’s in tight quarters, and things only get worse once everyone starts to realise there’s a killer in their midst. Even worse, that killer in their midst might be a vicious werewolf.
Finn, who’s the kind of guy who quotes Mr. Rogers and says “heavens to Betsy!” when he discovers something amiss (even when it’s something seriously unsettling, like the fact that all the generators in town have been clawed to pieces), tries his best to bring everybody together, but there’s too much bad blood swirling around for anyone to trust anyone else, especially as the body count begins to rise. Werewolves Within keeps the whodunnit vibes going throughout, dropping suggestive hints that any of its characters could be a killer, a werewolf, or both — while also dangling the dueling possibilities that the werewolf thing is either very real or a very cunning fabrication.
With its oversized characters played by an array of comedic actors — the pairing of American Horror Story’s Cheyenne Jackson and What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey Guillén is particularly delightful — there’s a danger that Werewolves Within could end up being overly campy. Fortunately, the film stays committed to its spooky atmospherics (including a bit of gore) to keep things from getting completely farcical — and since the plot is so familiar, the fun performances end up being the movie’s biggest attraction anyway. That doesn’t mean the script isn’t clever, though; it knows it’s filled with tropes and it also knows you know it’s filled with tropes, and the little breadcrumbs it sprinkles throughout its dialogue (one word: “snowshoes”) end up paying off big-time as Werewolves Within reaches its conclusion.
Werewolves Within arrives in theatres on July 1.