“Werewolves Within” threatens to be yet another progressive lecture within its first few minutes.
That never materializes. Nor does the film’s promise to blend horror and comedy for a “Shaun of the Dead”-style romp.
The scares are few, and that’s being generous. The laughs? You might chuckle once or twice, but this strained farce can’t even get that element right.
Sam Richardson stars as Finn, the new Ranger overseeing the quirky-to-a-flaw town of Beaverfield, Vermont. He meets the unsavory locals with the help of the town’s postal worker, Cecily (Milana Vayntrub). Finn barely has time to settle in when mysterious events rattle both him and his new neighbors.
Half-eaten corpses are never a good sign, nor generators slashed to ribbons by what looks like a wild animal. A rather large wild animal, to be precise.
Soon, Finn and a hodgepodge of stock characters (conservative stereotypes, gay stereotypes) huddle together for their own protection, but could the titular werewolf be closer than they think?
Richardson of “Veep” fame is ideally cast as Finn, a beta type trying to be more assertive. His early scenes with Vayntrub are sweet and satisfying, but the screenplay quickly detours from their quasi-courtship. We’re forced to spend oh, so much time with the supporting players, none of whom stand out from a comedic perspective.
They’re grating above all else and they never … shut … up.
The screenplay relies on those frantic exchanges, along with a wellspring of cynicism to power its broader themes.
Heck, just follow the grand Mr. Rogers tradition and we’ll all be better for it. (An unexpected quote from the TV legend starts the film on a strong note).
The horror elements rely on jump scares and action happening just out of the frame. That’s not an issue at first, but gore hounds may crave something more, and fast, given the paucity of frights. The jokes are either bland or ill-advised, leaving us with a whodunnit that can’t keep our attention.
A key subplot involves a pipeline project pitched by a shady oilman (is there any other kind in Hollywood?). He’s obviously crooked, but the locals aren’t much better. Director Josh Ruben clearly wants us to root against the oil project, but he’s not above sharing why it could help the community.
A few neighbors need the money dangled by the oil company. That acknowledgement alone reveals some self-awareness.
References to Antifa and gender neutral bathrooms suggest “Werewolves Within” will be capsized by lectures or culture war skirmishes. Ruben and screenwriter Mishna Wolff don’t let that happen, ladling out blame and character flaws across the screen. It’s fair and balanced, to a degree, even if the tale’s progressive bona fides are easy to spot.
“Werewolf Within” is based on an Ubisoft video game. Audiences unfamiliar with the source material won’t make that connection. They’ll be too busy wondering why a can’t-miss concept falls so flat.
HiT or Miss: The team behind “Werewolves Within” can’t summon the geek poetry behind the best horror-comedy hybrids.