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Werewolves Within Review: Claws Out

Werewolves Within is one of the finest video game movies ever made. Sadly, calling a film one of the finest video game adaptations is like calling someone the smartest flat earther.

Director Josh Ruben’s horror-comedy clears the genre’s notoriously low bar with ease and delivers a delightfully spooky whodunnit sure to please fans of movies like Clue, Hot Fuzz, and Knives Out (let’s call it Claws Out).

Werewolves Within is based on Ubisoft’s 2016 virtual reality party game of the same name. In the game, people sit around a fire and try to deduce who among them is a murderous werewolf. The game’s simple premise makes an ideal setup for a murder mystery movie. There are no iconic characters or complicated backstory for the film to butcher, giving screenwriter Mishna Wolff free rein over the Werewolves Within extended universe.

The film sees recently dumped forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) take a new job in the small out-of-the-way town of Beaverfield. Tensions are rising among the prickly residents. They’re split over selling their property to a corporation hell-bent on running a pipeline through their land. The townsfolk are major headcases, except for Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), an easygoing postal worker who may have the hots for Finn.

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Finn’s first day on the job is a doozy. A blizzard hits, the power goes down, and people and animals start turning up dead. With a killer on the loose, the townsfolk go into lockdown by fortifying a local lodge. As if things aren’t bad enough, they deduce that the killer is a werewolf hunkered down with them. Before long, everyone becomes a suspect, and it’s up to ranger Finn to keep the peace before the humans tear themselves apart.

Werewolves Within is a timely social satire. It argues that there’s a monster lurking within everybody. Beaverfield’s colourful townies represent stereotypical American factions that can’t get along. The cast includes woke coastal elites, reckless hicks, an a-social woodsman, and a Karen who cares more about her dog than the dead bodies turning up around her.

Naturally, these self-centred jerks loathe each other, and they’re all packing heat. Trapping them (and their guns) in close quarters is a slow-moving train wreck that you can’t look away from. At its core, Werewolves Within is an on-the-nose social satire most interested in exploring the corrosive social divides eating away at the soul of America.

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Werewolves Within isn’t knee-slapping hilarious, but it kept a big silly grin on my face right until the final credits. The cast of comedy veterans has fantastic chemistry, and the script tees them up for zinger after zinger. The over-the-top performances take the edge off the film’s creepiest moments, so horror lightweights can still hang with this one. There’s loads of tension and suspense, but the film’s vibe is more Shaun of the Dead than Halloween when it comes to scares.

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Richardson delivers another knockout performance and continues to stake his claim as one of the funniest people on the planet. He makes every scene at least 42% better. Pay close attention to Finn’s reaction when he presents the murderer’s first mangled victim to the townsfolk. In just a few seconds, Finn takes you on a wild comedic journey through facial expressions alone.

Richardson plays Finn as charming and goofy with child-like zeal. But there’s also sensitivity to the character that anchors him in relatable human feelings. This sort of vulnerability is a crucial quality for the hero of a genre flick. Richardson brings much-needed humanity to a story full of Looney Tunes characters. Richardson’s skill set is perfectly suited for horror-comedies and I can’t think of another actor I would rather see in an Evil Dead remake or Ghostbusters reboot.

Cinematographer Matt Wise does a fantastic job capturing Beaverfield’s creepy small-town vibe. The dreary gray skies, gloomy woods, and drab storefronts create a distinct sense of place – think Fargo reimagined as a horror flick. Anna Drubich’s score enhances the moody visuals, playfully dancing between breezy and haunting.

Werewolves Within is an entertaining horror-comedy with an emphasis on the comedy. Think of it as a “hair-raising” whodunnit that doubles as a creature feature. The stacked cast of comedy vets are firing on all cylinders, and Richardson’s winsome performance is worth the price of admission.

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