Blending horror with comedy is a tried-and-true formula, especially in the world of independent film, as many filmmakers seemingly want to double the size of their intended audience by offering an experience that appeals to a wide variety of viewers. Unfortunately, this blend instead often results in leaning into one tone more strongly than the other, crafting an uneven experience, with the ways in which one component falls short making it feel all the more disappointing in comparison to the things about the film that do actually work. Luckily, this isn't the case with Werewolves Within, as it manages to deliver both comedy and horror in equal, effective amounts, despite neither element being exceptional.
As the small town of Beaverfield is considering whether or not to accept a bid to develop an oil pipeline in the community, forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) arrives to survey the environmental impact of such a project. Shortly after his arrival, a snowstorm forces the town's residents to hole up in a bed and breakfast, but when a series of grisly crimes begin to unfold, the town turns on each other as accusations fly regarding gossipy rivalries and supernatural creatures.
The standout success of Werewolves Within is every casting decision that was made, especially with leads Richardson and Milana Vayntrub. The script from Mishna Wolff is clever enough on its own without ever forcing itself to be cute, allowing the pair to truly make the dialogue crackle with chemistry. Given their accomplishments in the outskirts of their previous comedic efforts, anyone familiar with Richardson or Vayntrub's work surely won't be surprised by their chemistry, though this film proves they have the timing, charisma, and dramatic skills to carry a picture. The nature of the premise doesn't inherently beg a follow-up, but we'd gladly watch the continued adventures of either character.
If Richardson and Vayntrub's performances aren't endearing enough, the first act, in which Finn meets the townspeople, builds the audience's excitement towards what the narrative has in store. From Casual's Michaela Watkins to What We Do in the Shadows' Harvey Guillén to American Horror Story's Cheyenne Jackson, the reveal of each citizen amplifies our interest in how the ensemble will ultimately come together. Once that ensemble does come together, Richardson and Vayntrub somewhat take the backseat to allow the film to truly feel like a shared experience, permitting the focal point to dart around the room to hilarious effect.
Director Josh Ruben's previous outing was Scare Me, which largely focused on two people telling each other scary stories in a remote cabin. It's clear that the experience perfectly lent itself to the narrative of Werewolves Within, yet with this film amplifying those abilities exponentially. Despite the situational constraints, Ruben expertly bounces from one ridiculous character to the next, effectively making the viewer feel like they're in the room with the community, but merely watching from the outskirts. Additionally, the larger canvas allows him to spend more time outdoors, capturing the isolated town in a majestic way, whether that be through following a character trudging through a snowstorm or illuminating darkened streets with fallen streetlights. Having also written and starred in Scare Me and serving solely as the director in this new outing, he's really allowed to focus more of his attention on the look of the tonally similar experience, building our excitement for whatever he gets to do next.
Regardless of all of the things Werewolves Within has going for it, the experience ultimately falls short when it comes the most frustrating challenge all horror-comedies face: a third act that amplifies everything that came before it, all while paying off both the comedy and horror of the premise. Of course, the mileage of both the humor and horror will vary with each viewer, so some audiences will think the film absolutely sticks the landing, yet that also means there will surely be just as many audiences who think it squanders its potential. Even with those shortcomings, just the fact that it isn't an entirely abysmal experience should be considered a win, knowing just how many other horror-comedies fail to leave any sort of impact on the viewer. Offering any sort of finale that delivers a blend of the two themes that isn't a complete catastrophe allows the experience to end on a fulfilling note, even if it falls short of being memorable. With each passing year, it's easy to rattle off a list of the 10 best horror films of the year, but given how lucky were are to get a memorable film that delivers on both humor and horror to a distinct degree every other year. at best, we can't judge Werewolves Within too harshly.
The final product feels like this generation's Clue, as it effectively replicates the concept of its source material, if not in mechanics but in its tone. The premise of the VR-based game is to encourage players to accuse one another of being a werewolf, allowing the delight to be derived from the accusations more than the actual reveal. Thanks to the delightful cast and directorial sensibilities, this adaptation manages to evoke the feeling of actually playing the game without feeling beholden to the source material. Even if exceeds its presumed constraints, the end result needs both the humor and the horror to be cranked up even further to join the ranks of other seminal horror-comedies. It might not join the ranks of experiences from the past 15 years like This Is the End, What We Do in the Shadows, or the works of Edgar Wright, but managing to even be a mildly successful throat-ripping side-splitter is worth cause for celebration.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Werewolves Within hits theaters on June 25th and VOD on July 2nd.