In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.
Werewolves Within seems like the perfect formula for a home-run: a stacked cast of comedic standbys goofing off within a horror whodunit shell, helmed by an exciting new filmmaker. What’s not to love? The only strike against it on the surface is the fact that it is based on a video game (one I’d never heard of until literal seconds before watching the film). Unfortunately, it was only about ten minutes into things before I realized that this film was not for me. While I am convinced that it’s going to be a huge hit, which is a wonderful thing indeed, the style of comedy is one that I find unfunny at best, and annoying at worst.
With the caveat that my inability to jibe with a certain type of humor does not necessarily mean that it’s bad, let’s dive in.
Finn (Sam Richardson) is the new forest ranger in the town of Beaverfield. It’s a small, snowy place filled with strange folks, and Finn’s relocation to the town is punishment for a mistake made on a previous posting. He’s a nice guy who has a little bit of trouble asserting himself, but a quiet little place like Beaverfield should be no problem to manage, even for someone so conflict-averse. Immediately upon arrival, however, the small town eccentricities threaten what should have been a period of blissful, restorative boredom. Soon after, the power goes out, bodies start piling up, and the strange denizens of Beaverfield are all holed up in a bed and breakfast, trying to figure out who — or what — is behind the killings. It’s a classic setup: a bunch of colorful characters stuck inside a single location with the uncomfortable assurance that EVERYBODY IS A SUSPECT! And by “suspect” I mean “potential werewolf.”
The roster of possible lycanthropes seems diverse upon first glance, but when we boil down their surface idiosyncrasies, every last one of them is the same character, functionally speaking, and it’s in this fundamental failure of comedy that the movie lost me. When doing character-based ensemble humor, some sort of restraint is in order, or else you run into the problems we see here. Namely that every character is simultaneously the straight man and the goofball. Remember in the early aughts when people would refer to themselves on social media as “sooooo random” as if it meant anything of value? That’s the style of comedy we’re working with here. Wall-to-wall goofiness without any sort of anchor to give it perspective. If everyone is a clown, nobody is a clown. The cadence of the humor is out of whack as well, mostly in that there isn’t any. Each and every character is performatively self-involved, announcing their feelings about what’s happening in front of them in a sort of running commentary aimed directly at us at home, without actually being directed to us at home. Each is engaged a constant personal meta-narrative that isn’t actually meta. They all talk past one another with little regard for any sort of timing, while more than a few attempts at punchlines sloppily added after the fact through ADR.
Sure there’s a couple of mouthy drug addicts, an oddball scientist, a rich gay couple, a feminist mail carrier, a handsy right-winger, his seemingly mentally challenged craft-enthusiast wife, and a kindly widow, but they all serve an identical purpose and follow identically inconsistent logic. As a result, it’s hard to really care about any of them, and any twists and turns in the mystery carry no weight.
The mystery itself is decent, even if it’s not terribly dense, and it comes together in a way that, although predictable, is handled well enough to not feel underwhelming (or worse yet, a cheat). In fact, I’d say it’s perfectly whelming, holding tandem with the film overall.
I must pay credit to the performers, however, all of whom are committed to the material in a big way. When Werewolves Within works, it’s because the cast is taking huge swings with the material, finding an energy that keeps the things afloat when what’s on the page is lacking. I wouldn’t trade a single performer out for anyone else. Sam Richardson is going to be a household name one day, and deservedly so. He’s a hell of a leading man, and I can see him being a successful presence in just about any genre.
While it gives me no pleasure to report that Werewolves Within was not my cup of tea, it gives me great pleasure to report that a lot of people are going to love it, which is always a good thing. Everyone in front of and behind the camera clearly has a ton of talent, and I sincerely hope that the inevitable success of Werewolves Within does right by each and every one of them. For my money, the film is a failed attempt at something we’ve seen done better in the past, but it’s exactly the type of oddball swing for the fences that I’d love to see more filmmakers take.