CollegeHumor alum Josh Ruben clearly has a knack for finding the comedy in true-blue horror, both with his debut feature Scare Me and now his follow-up, Werewolves Within, a similarly meta exploration of what makes spooky stories so cinematically satisfying. In addition to being a clear send up of the Mafia-style party game “Werewolves,” Werewolves Within is also a direct adaptation of the VR game of the same (with Ubisoft even helping produce it), so expect this one to pop up in a few “video game movies that are actually good” lists, hopefully near the top.
Video or card game aside, Werewolves Within follows a mostly familiar setup, even if you’ve never argued with a group of friends over which of you is secretly a bloodthirsty lycanthrope. The story, from screenwriter Mishna Wolff, follows a park ranger named Finn (the always hilarious Sam Richardson in an overdue leading man role), who arrives in the tight-nit Beaverfield, a snowy Vermont ski town with only a few residents hanging around. He quickly gets acquainted with the small cast of locals, which includes a plucky postal worker (Milana Vayntrub), an eccentric arts and crafts devotee (Michaela Watkins), her doting husband (Michael Chernus), and plenty more worth meeting on your own.
Everyone in Beaverfield has a secret of some sort, and they all seem to be at each other’s throats for various reasons, so tensions get even higher when a dead body shows up and the town’s generators are mysteriously sabotaged. It isn’t long before someone utters what the audience has been waiting too long to hear, that this is the work of a werewolf, and anyone could be a suspect.
Guessing the werewolf reveal isn’t exactly difficult if you’ve read or watched more than your fair share of whodunnit stories—fans of Clue will especially find this to be a pretty fun, if not breezy test of their deduction skills. But the good news is that Werewolves Within is both funny and suspenseful enough to keep most viewers off the scent, or at least enjoying the film enough to ignore the obvious, red-soaked flags.
The film is always light and amusing, but it never goes too far into either schlock, dread, or gore lore. So hardcore horror fans might find it to be a little too clean and tidy for their bloodier tastes. Ruben is going for a self-aware take on horror, but not to the extent of Scream, Cabin in the Woods, or his previous feature, Scare Me. It works, though, because similar to Scare Me, Werewolves Within lends a unique humanity—an almost everyday good tidings mentality—to its story about a man clearly in over his head but trying to do his best for the sake of others. Richardson anchors the entire movie with effortless charm and his commanding presence as a gentle giant you can’t help but root for, even if he’s your primary suspect throughout all the crossfire, which involves more than just a possible werewolf terrorizing these misfits.
In a strange way, Werewolves Within is almost like a contained microcosm of America itself and a biting sermon for everyone to just get along and start being neighbors again. This message would fall flat if not for the film’s willingness to poke fun at its own optimism, while still believing that maybe someday we’ll all get our acts together. Maybe. There’s a world of detail in every nook and cranny haunting Beaverfield, too, making its slight, but delightfully quirky atmosphere and denizens quite easy to fall for. To the point where it’s easy to imagine many groups of friends gathering around to watch this hangout movie as often as they might play the game.
Werewolves Within is now playing in select theaters and will be available on demand starting July 2. You can watch the trailer here.