“Werewolves have guns… Get revenge?” This comical line marked the only words that the aspiring writer and werewolf fan could come up with in Josh Ruben’s feature debut, Scare Me. It seems kismet that Ruben’s follow-up, Werewolves Within, works as a spiritual progression of his debut, putting a werewolf at the center of a murder mystery that rocks a snowy little town during a raging winter storm. It’s a murder mystery whodunit based on the Ubisoft game, with guns, commentary, and many laughs.
Forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) embraces his new assignment in the cozy little town of Beaverfield, mainly because it offers the distance his girlfriend demanded of their relationship. The unflappably charming Finn barely settles into his temporary living arrangement at the Beaverfield Inn before he’s getting to know the colorful residents of the town through their vocal opinions on the new pipeline construction project that’s creating major division among them. Then he discovers that a brutal murderer is hiding among them, and a severe snowstorm traps them all together at the inn. Finn teams up with postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) to attempt to keep the peace and find the culprit before it claims their lives.
Written by Mishna Wolff, Werewolves Within spends time introducing its cast of suspects, ensuring each has motivations and personality traits that make them viable candidates for murder. Outside the plucky central pairing of Finn and Cecily, the Beavefield denizens run the gamut of archetypes, from overbearing conservatives to rowdy ruffians to the snooty liberals. Look for obvious red herrings and shady politicians to boot, all played by actors with a reputation for comedy, including Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, and Harvey Guillén. Wolff and Ruben poke fun of them all, putting their flaws front and center in the lineup of suspects.
If it’s not already clear, Ruben’s sophomore effort emphasizes comedy over horror. Many of the kills are off-screen, at least at first, to preserve the mystery. However, the filmmaker isn’t afraid to spill some blood where it counts. Because of the murder mystery format, Werewolves Within plays less like a conventional werewolf feature and more like a comedic Needful Things. Beaverfield residents can barely co-exist peacefully from the safety of their homes but put them together in a pressure cooker scenario, and mistrust breeds explosive chaos that threatens to outshine the werewolf in terms of violence.
Ruben gets to expand his scope here with a more extensive cast and multiple set pieces to play with, and it’s clear he’s having a blast. The social commentary can get a little clumsy and heavy-handed at times, at least until the mayhem kicks into high gear. The whodunit aspect sometimes veers into predictable territory, too. Still, Richardson’s performance as the endlessly charming Finn soothes most flaws, imbuing significant rooting interest. The macabre sense of humor is also winsome.
Expectations likely will play a key role in enjoyment. Werewolves Within is less interested in werewolves and more interested in exploring how the possibility of one hiding in plain sight can turn a town inside out. It does so by tilting the scale heavily in favor of comedy over scares. The final reveal is visually silly, but that’s also the point. It may not keep you warm all winter long, but Ruben’s latest plays like a joyous hug of a comedy-horror movie full of charisma, violent antics, and entertaining character-driven mystery.
Werewolves Within made its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and will release in theaters on June 25.