WEREWOLVES WITHIN movie poster |  ©2021 IFC Films

WEREWOLVES WITHIN movie poster | ©2021 IFC Films

Rating: R
Stars: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillėn, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Wayne Duvall, Rebecca Henderson, Glenn Fleshler
Writer: Mishna Wolff, based on the Ubisoft videogame
Director: Josh Ruben
Distributor: IFC Films
Release Date: June 25, 2021

WEREWOLVES WITHIN starts off promisingly, by making a Mr. Rogers quote seem scary. It at first seems like director Josh Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff, in a very loose adaptation of the Ubisoft videogame of the title, are aiming for a HOWLING/LOST BOYS-type groove, with some CLUE in the foundation.

After a prologue in which a man is killed by what we guess may be a werewolf (mainly because of the film’s title), we fast-forward to a month later. Forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) is on his way to his new posting in the isolated small town of Beaverfield, Vermont, where it’s snowing like crazy.

Finn checks in to the old-fashioned inn, run by kindly Jeanine (Catherine Curtin). Finn also makes friends with another Beaverfield newbie, postal delivery worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub).

Finn soon becomes aware of the town’s rupture over whether or not to sell to pipeline developer Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall). Wealthy gay couple Joaquim (Harvey Guillėn) and Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and secretive scientist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson) are against it; broke, bickering couple Marcus (George Basil) and Gwen (Sarah Burns), and less broke but venal marrieds Trisha (Michaela Watkins) and Pete (Michael Chernus) want the cash. Woodsman Emerson Flynn (Glenn Fleshler) wants everybody to stay off his land, and isn’t shy about shooting at trespassers.

Finn and Cecily are so likable that we actually don’t mind that they have long bantering sequences before much happens in the way of plot. Then Trisha’s dog is killed and the body of the victim from the prologue is discovered.

And this is where WEREWOLVES WITHIN may or may not start to run into problems, depending on how one views its very broad comedy. The townspeople are portrayed as cartoon archetypes, constructed as if for sketches on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. A little of this goes a long way, and there’s more than a little.

WEREWOLVES WITHIN is well-constructed, as far as its mystery goes. However, the filmmakers seem like they want to have it both ways. They want to make valid points about how hysteria, prejudice and cruelty can be just as bad as supernatural monstrosity, while also making fun of themselves for having something to say. This duality is not impossible to pull off, but it doesn’t work well here.

Still, Richardson and Vayntrub are solid performers who earn our respect for navigating their roles, which call for more nuance than we might first suppose, and we are kept guessing throughout as to who-done-what.

WEREWOLVES WITHIN has the DNA of a good movie. Again, whether one thinks that makes it to the screen in this instance has much to do with one’s personal comedic tastes.

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