Werewolves Within (2021) Shines Brighter Than the Full Moon
Title: Werewolves Within
First Non-Festival Release: June 24, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Josh Ruben
Writer: Mishna Wolff
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Starring: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) takes up post at a sleepy cottage in a small mountainside town that is even more sparsely populated than usual due to the winter season. As Finn gets settled in and meets the menagerie of cooky townsfolk he learns of the stark divide amongst the residents over a proposed pipeline that would change the landscape of the town and kick all of them out with a nice payout. That night a dog is attacked, and Finn finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery when the corpse of another townie is found underneath the inn. This is no ordinary whodunnit though. The killer amongst them isn’t just a fellow member of their community but a full-fledged werewolf.
Werewolves Within is like a delightful steaming cup of hot cocoa in the form of comfort horror that both satisfies and warms the heart.
Josh Ruben’s distinct directorial style is playful yet edgy enough to get in a scare or two. He knows how to bring out the best in his performers and make a concept feel bigger than it is onscreen. The light tone and sharp editing keep it going, even when the film starts to sag in the middle. It isn’t a traditional werewolf film but that is what makes it fun to put the pieces together of the mystery. Featuring some of the most delightful dialogue in horror cinema, Ruben knows how to make the film engaging while developing his characters into more than just stock. I especially appreciate how it feels very small town without condescension or malice. These people are quirky and loveable; they’re just in the wrong genre to survive that.
Everyone here is outstanding at bringing their characters to life in a real and genuine way. We find out so much about these people in a natural way thanks to the whodunit motive searching. It’s pivotal to the story and gives us enough without feeling like exposition dumping. Sam Richardson is the strongest, giving a fun yet nuanced performance as the not-so-confident but trying Ranger Finn. Other notable performances include Rebecca Henderson’s Dr. Ellis, Cheyenne Jackson’s Devon, Michaela Watkins’s Trisha, and Harvey Guillén’s Joaquim.
There’s some cute commentary on what it means to hide your true self and the impact of what happens when you reveal it to others. This works for every character. While the townsfolk have their moments, which make them respond with violence; Finn responds with asserting himself while still being true to himself. It neatly wraps up his character arc while serving as a nice lesson on authenticity.
Beyond being an enjoyable film, Werewolves Within brings plenty to the table in terms of production values. Sleek cinematography makes everything in this small town look crisp and clean; the photography of the snow in particular provides a bit of quaintness to balance out the violence that will ensue. The set design is top notch from the inn to the bar to the homes of the townsfolk. It looks real and lived-in which makes for a much more dynamic watch. Don’t even get me started on the werewolf effects. They are excellent. I appreciate that the team shows restraint and saves them for the end. It makes the film that much more exciting and mysterious.
Ruben’s sophomore feature delivers on its charming presence with many thanks due to its cast of quirky characters and sharp script. Werewolves Within is a hilarious whodunnit with plenty of great twists and turns to keep the most distracted easily enthralled. You’ll feel like you are wrapped in a nice, warm blanket as you watch the action unfold on screen in front of the over-the-top townsfolk. It’s not a perfect movie but it is one that gives you everything you could possibly want from it. When watching, you’ll howl with delight more than fright, but that’s what you need most out of a film like Werewolves Within.
Overall Score? 7/10