Director Josh Ruben and screenwriter Mishna Wolff wear their influences on their sleeve with Werewolves Within. The horror whodunnit, based on a video game of the same name, entered production in the wake of Knives Out’s success, trapping a group of people with diverse political leanings in an inn during a snowstorm, during which a supposed werewolf has taken out the generators keeping the lights on.
The comedy, meanwhile, as it pertains to the genre elements, aspires for something closer to Shaun of the Dead, but the film just isn’t fast or smart enough to get these jokes to land. In truth, some decent ones are made worse by the beats right after them that frustratingly relish in the laugh that they just got. Others simply aren’t funny. It’s all a shame because the cast consists of a slew of very capable, very funny people.
Sam Richardson plays Finn, a new forest ranger in town who takes on the role of the detective trying to figure out who the werewolf is. Clearly typecast here from his wholesome role on HBO raunch-fest Veep, a lot of his best materials falls flat here merely because it doesn’t stand opposite something a little darker. Werewolves Within plays things warmly until it comes time to unveil its end twists. The central mystery is supported by Finn’s attraction for local postwoman Cecily (Milana Vayntrub). Without an ounce of cynicism between their initial characterizations, it all just feels too cozy, the antithesis of how many right- and left-leaning Americans would feel in their situation at the moment.
The film’s opening title card gives us a quote from Mr. Rogers that encourages people to come together despite their differences. And so, beyond the two leads, the remainder of the characters exhibit stereotypes of the America’s two primary political parties. Poor Cheyanne Jackson and Harvey Guillen are given borderline offensive material as a stuffy, fussy gay couple, while George Basil and Sarah Burns seem to be playing into red neck cliches, down to their appearances echoing the most depressing extras on Breaking Bad. There’s no nuance or human element to these people—they just co-occupy scenes as if their opposite isn’t even present in the room.
Eventually, the film sheds its flimsy “love thy neighbor…every neighbor” theme to just get hammy and up the body count in rapid succession. But even the blood and guts can’t save Werewolves Within from feeling dry. It mostly comes down to timing and editing. The film is just under 100 minutes long and yet drags along as the cast overpopulates almost every scene, every potential werewolf suspect having their say no matter what happens, small or large. By the time the blood spills, and it is far too late in the film’s runtime, there’s just no reason left to care about any of these people, even if said care is to see how gruesome their death might be.
The overwriting of the script can be felt all the way through, lacking both confidence and a necessary trust with the audience to move on quickly to the next joke or development. That’s not to say there’s no joy to be found in this hammy genre fusion. Rebecca Henderson gets some good licks as a kooky, stoic doctor who has some secret knowledge of what’s going on, and other jokes and quick edits earn their laugh. It’s just that the success rate here is much lower than it needs to be for Werewolves Within to be a recommendable horror comedy. It’s not the premise that’s broken, even if it’s a mishmash of other similar properties, but the execution. The film tries so hard to earn your howl, but as it slogged along, all it inspired in me was begging for it to be over.