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Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within

Rarely have I wanted every character to die in a movie

dir: Josh Ruben

2021

Werewolves Within. Is a film. That exists. And I watched it. But I am not proud.

It stars the delightful Sam Richardson who is just about the nicest sonofabitch you’ve ever seen in any medium. His guiding light in life seems to be Mr Rogers, with all the niceness and tweeness that conveys.

He plays a forest ranger or something similar, who moves to a town called Beaverfield that seems to only have 11 other people in it. Something mysterious seems to be going on in the town which will force all or most of them into the confines of a hotel, where maybe they’ll be picked off one by one?

I think, despite the werewolf theme and horror elements it was intended to be a snappy and light kind of comedy with a smidge of social commentary? I don’t know if that’s the case because I didn’t really find any of it that funny, like not even smile funny.

Problems with my approach: I saw it on my own; I saw it stone cold sober; I was already in something of an impatient mood and kept wanting to turn it off or watch something else or compulsively check my phone. And that’s despite the fact that I thought most of the people here are great performers who’ve delighted me in other stuff.

As characters start to die, I found I didn’t really care, because it was impossible to care about any of them. One character is always getting handsy with the ladies around who aren’t his wife, and of course we would want him to die, but when his handsy hand gets ripped off I felt kinda bored.

What it really feels like is a premise without a great idea on how to stretch things out? It feels really belaboured, like, pointlessly meandering all over the place, and almost winking at us with its arbitrary pointlessness. And that would be okay if it was fun along the way.

As in, at one point all the remaining people decide they need to stick together in the hotel. So they do so. Until they decide, well actually, let’s all just fuck off to our own homes, and then they do so. And you’re like “the fuck didn’t you do that half an hour ago?”

And there’s a bit which I think was intended as comical (to an American audience, since to people living in other countries the continued obsession with gun ownership is just baffling to the rest of us) where, upon being asked whether people are packing, everyone has at least 14 guns per person, which end up very arbitrarily being placed in a sack in a room, and the room is locked.

They then completely forget about them when some of them need them again. Good thing other people have a whole lot of other guns like this is a video game or The Matrix, and all you have to do in America is just say “Guns. Lots of Guns” and then guns magically appear all over the place.

What this is based on, seriously, is a game alternatively called Mafia or Werewolf, which is pretty common and pretty widespread. The computer game Among Us also has the same premise, but it predates computers by at least a few decades. It’s a game where a group of people have to figure out who among them is the killer or the werewolf or whatnot before they get killed, and the secret villain has to kill as many other players as they can before they get found out.

Film-wise this ain’t a new concept. Whether it’s The Thing or any flick where people get trapped in a place and can’t trust each other because the villain could be any shapeshifting one of them, it means we’re also trying to figure it out. That’s meant to be part of the fun.

It honestly never occurred to me while I was watching this that it mattered who the werewolf was. There’s also this veneer of red state / blue state nonsense, with some members of the group being right-wing arseholes, and others being whatever, but even that doesn’t raise any interesting arguments or ideas or approaches. You just have one person who’s pretty much a stereotype anyway saying “Guns and pipelines are good, hippies and gays less than great” and another group saying “gays are okay, but we still need oil pipelines because I wants to get paid” and there’s not even enough there to really get mildly peeved about.

There’s also a couple who I think are meth addicts, and I could barely understand what they said, but they did have cool fake band t-shirts.

There’s the obligatory gay couple (half of which is the awesome Harvey Guillén, best known perhaps for playing Guillermo in the tv series of What We Do In the Shadows) and they’re there mostly to be haughty and look down their immaculately moisturised noses at the other townsfolk.

There’s also a weird naturalist doctor (Rebecca Henderson) who acts weirder even than whatever the creature is that may be killing people. She had “I will be one of the first to die” written all over her overacting but underwritten character’s face. Why she would have a machine that can “test” for werewolf DNA before anyone even knows that’s what’s happening is a mystery than I’m not going to think about any more once I complete this review.

I really like Sam Richardson, have liked him in tv series like Detroiters and in some films that I’ve seen him in, and he has an interesting approach to character work, which is at odds with expectations (I think that’s part of his charm) people have for African-American characters. Here he’s deliberately channeling Mr Rogers as a wider commentary about why people should look out for each other and be good neighbours to each other. It sounds cheesy and worthy of eye-rolling, but when presented with the polarisation of American politics and the rise (again) of supremacist and fascist movements, these arguments sound cheap because we’ve all become such cynical fuckers.

One of the townsfolk is a bearskin-clad lunatic who rejects that he is part of a community lives on the outskirts and threatens to shoot anyone that trespasses. Finn, the main character, tries to appeal to him in a way that is meaningful to him, in that he tries to impress upon Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler) that even as an isolated jerk he’s still part of a community that could benefit from neighbourliness, from looking out for each other, from Emerson’s help.

It’s used as a punchline in the end, of course, but at least that bit resonated with me. The other thread that runs throughout, in tandem with Finn wondering whether he’s too much of a pushover, and whether he needs to be more of a jerk in order to be taken seriously by other people, is his energy with someone else who’s a recent blow-in to the town, being the postie Cecily (Milana Vayntrub).

She’s great! I don’t mean the character, who is a typical tour guide plot device character for an out of towner like Finn, but I just mean the comic performance by Vayntrub. She’s a real comic talent, bringing an energy to the movie that no-one else matches and which wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the screwball comedies from the 1940s. She’s so great, and so much funnier than anyone else available, and some of them are comedy veterans. She acts them off the screen, at least until the ending of the flick makes everyone look ever so dumb, including her character.

Shame it’s a mostly great performance wasted in a mediocre flick. I’m sure, or at least I hope she gets a chance to be the lead in countless other comedies, to let her comic timing shine.

It’s not going to do any harm to Sam Richardson’s career either, I imagine, because he comes out of this fiasco fine. Almost a hero, even. But, wow, the way the flick falls apart in the end, with so many people randomly dying for such dumb reasons, honestly, when you put an ending like that together, you’re broadcasting to me how little even you care as the person putting the flick together.

And if you don’t care, and you’re going to be that glib about it, why the fuck would I care?

I might like it more with another viewing, but I can’t imagine being drunk enough to ever do it willingly

5 times Werewolves Within would have been funnier if Mr Rogers came back from the dead and was the one killing people out of 10

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“Heavens to... oh fuck.” – my sentiments exactly - Werewolves Within

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