movie review: Werewolves Within (2021)

What did you watch? The 2021 horror comedy Werewolves Within.

Oh, because you’re into the video games? Oh, it’s based on a video game?

Did it match the continuity of the video game?  What did they get right?  I have no idea. I didn’t know this was based on a video game.

I watched this because it stars Sam Richardson. I will make a suggestion: watch VEEP. Keep watching it and you’ll be introduced to Richard, the knowledgeable but obtuse political advisor, played by Richardson, who steals the show for the remainder of the series. VEEP is FULL of comedic talent, all of them who are perfectly cast and deliver on their talent for this political satire. Richardson steals the show from all of them. I would like nothing but good things for him, so please, Hollywood, keep casting him, and give him lots of money.

In a post-covid movie business, movies are released on digital platforms and then absorbed into their parent company streaming service after a certain timeframe, presumably after some of the costs have been recouped and then your subscription fee eventually helps with the profit it didn’t make in the theater. I guess. We’re not out of the pandemic either, by the way, so I’m not running out to see anything in the theater even though I’m triple vaxxed. There was a movie called The Tomorrow War (I think?) and Richardson is in it but it stars Chris Pratt as the lunkhead hero and it seems to take it seriously and I didn’t bother. But, Werewolves Within is a movie also starring Richardson, and looks to be a comedy, so I definitely wanted to check it out.

Sam Richardson is a forest park ranger who is assigned to a small northeastern town filled with modern small town stereotypes. He’s affable, he’s friendly, he verbalizes when he’s reading the room that he’s reading the room. Much like VEEP, except here the townsfolk continue on with their smalltown BS. Half the town wants to sell their homes to a guy who wants to build a pipeline through the town. He promises it’d be a low impact pipeline even to the other half who want to keep him from doing so. Among them are a conservative couple, one who is devout while the other philanders, a crazy redneck couple, a gay couple who bought a home to get away from the city, and a lady who owns an inn. There’s also a mailcarrier played by Milana Vayntrub, whom you may recognize as the AT&T spokesperson. The inn owner’s husband is rumored to have run off with another woman a month earlier – however, the opening scene is of the husband attacked by an unseen force.

After a meet cute and the new ranger meeting the quirky locals with a gossip infodump supplied by the mailcarrier, the ranger accidentally trespasses on the home of a sovereign citizen type who threatens to shoot the ranger. There’s also a quirky doctor who rents a room in the inn, and happens to not only be a scientist who is there to combat the pipeline plan for environmental reasons, but also as a someone who happens to be able to have equipment to study fur and hair left behind recent attacks on bodies of the innkeeper’s husband and a dog that is mauled by another animal.

There’s a storm, the power goes out. And “things happen” and I wonder if it’s worth watching every frame during heated moments for clues. There’s comedy as the townspeople huddle together in the inn, much of it of course from Richardson’s blunt assessment of the situation as he tries to be the voice of reason. He’s a park ranger, not a cop, so I don’t know what authority he has. After one of the locals is attacked in the inn, everyone acts and overacts suspiciously, all the while accusing each other of harming the victim(s).

Then everyone disbands, they figure they’re safer at their own homes. This is pretty nonsensical, but it’s a horror movie, and often for horror movies, characters do dumb things to move the plot along and provide further scares and provide the slasher kills. The tone changes a bit. The first half of the movie introduces people and locations through quick cuts and a sound design that made me think of Edgar Wright’s Shawn Of The Dead & Hot Fuzz. The rest of the movie devolves into a last man standing type situation as characters decide to off each other out of suspicion, or being so wound up and snapping, or by accident. And of course there’s set ups and callbacks to keep the action going as it is revealed if there’s a werewolf or not.

Uh, is it good? It’s okay. It moves along pretty well. Some characters are a somewhat paper thin, some plot points that require more development (a character’s suicide gets no investigation). A lot of these threads could have been explored but these are choices, skip the recent death to stumble on a “clue”  about someone from months ago, that sort of thing. There were plenty of laughs in that first half. The end had a bit of suspense – how will a movie like this stick the landing? I was guessing on who was the werewolf, if random things people said were clues or just throwaway gags. Is this the kind of horror comedy that wants you to be concerned for a character in some peril with little chance for escape, or the kind where you watch modern character stereotypes get killed somewhat comically and gruesomely? That they use this opportunity to start killing each other over current and past transgressions is a twist (I can see now why the AV Club compared this to Clue).

This is a pretty good vehicle for Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub. It’s worth checking out. I still get the Netflix DVD service which is how I watched it, so I don’t know where it’s streamed outside of a rental. Does this elevate a video game into a “proper” film narrative? I guess. That’s a conversation for a different day. I watched it for its star, and maybe anyone could have played the role, but Richardson was funny enough and worked well as a lead. I don’t know if there was space, or even concern, to give the rest of the characters room beyond contemporary gags.

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