Cast: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michael Chernus. Directed by Josh Ruben.
To say that Werewolves Within is the best film based on a video game feels like the definition of damning with faint praise, but when recent years have offered up the likes of Detective Pikachu and Rampage, then it doesn’t mean as little as it did.
Based on the VR game from Red Storm Entertainment, the film follows newly instated Ranger Finn Wheeler who discovers the kooky Vermont town he’s moved to is home to a werewolf, and a large snowstorm as tensions rise.
Sam Richardson, probably best known for Veep offers up a leading role of amiable likability as Wheeler. His natural charm carries the film as it goes through the slow-moving first act. It’s on his natural ability to project the nice guy persona that keeps things moving as the inhumanly weird people that populate the film keep flooding in.
It helps that he’s ably supporting for the most part by Milana Wayntrub as plucky postal worker Cecily. Both her and Richardson have the easy charm of the old screwball comedies, a tamer version years past might have starred James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn.
The script works best when it’s setting up these vague stereotypes to make pointed comments on society. Wayne DuVall’s heartless businessman who seeks to build a pipeline through the natural beauty of the land, the weirdness of Michaela Watkins and Michael Chernus’ couple, even the hipster annoyance of Chewyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillen as a wealthy gay couple in the town.
The aptly named Mishna Wolff writes great banter between the characters that the cast are easily able to deliver, and the references to Mr Rogers work better than the faux pontificating through use of words like “snowflake”.
Despite the stretched budget showing at times, director Josh Ruben offers shades of Edgar Wright and Sam Raimi in the violence and escalating stakes. One sequence involving an explosion turns the film’s issue of budget into a very well timed joke that raises strong laughs.
It’s to the film’s credit that the mystery of who is the werewolf is left unresolved for so long and as the carnage builds the promise of the monster falls away to lovingly grisly gore and carnage. As the film begins to end there is a sense that it’s heading for an additional action sequence that the film perhaps can’t quite support but even so there’s such a likeable charm to the whole thing that it never feels like it’s outstayed it’s welcome.
It’s probably thanks to that fantastic lead turn that the film works as well as it does, Richardson offers belly laughs from start to finish without ever being overly comical and nicer-nice. It might be too slow and not scary enough for some people but for those who give in to its charm, there’s not just werewolves within… there’s a whole load of fun too.