REVIEW: WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021)

Review by Adam Johnson

            Josh Ruben’s Werewolves Within at its skeletal framework is promising.  The setting takes place inside the inn of a small snowy town in Vermont where eccentric characters run galore, and everyone is trying to discern who or what is massacring the community. We are introduced to a greedy oil man with desires to reduce the town scenery to ashes for the sake of profit margin. A wholesome forest ranger who loves kombucha tea and poetry. The hipster pompous gay couple. The always charming “AT&T girl”, Milana Vayntrub, playing a “mailperson”. A hysterical mother of a Pomeranian. The trashy couple. The off-the-grid “Grizzly Adams” mountain man who wishes the United States Forest Service would stop treading on him and his property. A doctor running DNA samples to determine the perpetrator. This appears to have the formula for a solid addition to the horror comedy sub-genre.

            Yet this is where the intrigue ends, and the actual substance of this film must be examined. Werewolves Within has been referred to as the horror version of Knives Out due to its “who done it?” angle, and the tangling web of personal conflict within the town. “A lot of festering resentment made even spicier by this pipeline drama and snowstorm”- allowing the villain to capitalize upon such and evade blame during the course of accusations. The drama begins to bounce off of the walls.  Conversations melt into one another as one person sobs over the slaughter of their pup, a couple disputes with a man over sexual harassment, a doctor is testing the DNA left behind on an attack, a body is found buried beneath the snow as this collision of heated discourse lets the audience know this town has baggage. However, unlike in Uncut Gems where overlapping dialogue provides palpable anxiety, this just gives a headache.

The pacing of early horror builds and allows the dread to compound. A slow-burn that stretches the rubber band letting it snap at the right moment and shows the monster at the last 20 minutes. The issue is this does not work in a comedic horror film or at least in this particular case. This would be like if the gore was tamed and Devon Sawa only got possessed at the end of Idle Hands, or the zombies in Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead were only revealed in the later stage of the film. The comedic aspect can in many ways allow the creator to dive deeper into the macabre since there is constant relief provided by the tone. Some may retort that this would run counter to the “who done it?” angle, yet this is a playful werewolf film where the identity can be concealed, and the snow-covered ground can serve as a beautiful backdrop for the splatter of hemoglobin.    

Since the horror component leaves little to be dissected, we are left with the comedic material. Beaverfield is filled with detestable cringe-inducing roles who constantly have to remind you that they are awkward. This says nothing about the actors and their abilities (who do the best with what they are given), but rather the screenplay.  This film could have been something great if it had dumped the overwriting of the zany jokes and took itself slightly more seriously (without null and voiding the wit and amusement entirely) such as the absurd but charming Malignant. Which that requires heart and a truly bizarre soul behind the project to give birth to what this film desires to be. Instead, we are left with a tsunami of anti-humor, post-ironic lines that reek of “I am so random!” i.e., forced idiosyncrasies revolving around snowshoes. This film is a caricature of what boomers think millennial/ gen-Z humor is given that it is every weak SNL skit from the past decade developed into a full feature.

Aside from the drawbacks cited, there does contain some highlights that are worth mentioning such as the setting/ basic structure. I also respect that the creators went for the werewolf route considering that in recent years the more classic monsters have been relatively absent from cinema. Considering that this film is based off of a video game, this does stand as one of the better adaptations. The acting is superb and is delivered in a sincere manner – especially from the leads Sam Richardson and Miliana Vayntrub. Their performances alone are captivating and make for some solid “romance”. There are also many set ups sprinkled throughout this movie that pay off in the end. Another plus is the last 25 minutes which is where the horror factor is on full-display. There was little false advertisement, as well considering the trailer emphasized to audiences that this would be predominately comedic.

Be certain to check this out on streaming services/Blu-ray/ etc. Humor is subjective and this style may appeal to many horror fans who desire an oddball, Northeastern lycanthrope comedy.

4.5/10.

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