With a werewolf terrorising a tiny American town during a snowstorm, the residents must decide if community is better than fighting before they all get eaten.
Never has “it’s coming from inside the house!” been more apt, as a group of argumentative residents from the small town of Beaverfield take shelter in the local inn during a storm, one of their number already dead from what they soon decide can only be a werewolf. Well actually initially they think it’s local shoot-to-kill misanthrope Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleschler) who is responsible, on the basis that like their suspect profile he’s covered in hair and can sabotage generators, but soon they switch to werewolves.
Werewolves Within is based on a video game, presumably a sort of Clue for cryptozoologists. I’ve never played it — everyone who reads my reviews will know the last time I attempted one was back in the mid-’80s on a Sinclair Spectrum 48k (ask your great-grandad). So I have no skin in the game when it comes to the “movies based on games” debate (apart from the fact that I loved Clue). I can say though that this film made me howl. It’s hilarious while taking as read — just look at that title — that while there may also be real monsters, we certainly have monstrousness within us and are happy to tear each other apart if we lose our empathy and our humanity.
“A man that doesn’t want to conquer nature doesn’t understand how brutal it is,” defends businessman Sam Parker, keen to build a gas pipeline through the area, to newly arrived forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson). By the end I was incline to agree with him if the alternative was risking being eaten by a werewolf, even if people are worse. Better the devil you know, and all that.
Beaverfield residents are roughly split on whether to agree to Parker’s pipeline along locals/incomer lines: those born into Beaverfield vs those who’ve bought into it. Money and close living can bring out the worst of us, but their arguments are soon overshadowed by something more urgent and frightening.
Finn is staying at the Beaverfield Inn, run by the recently-deserted Jeanine (Catherine Curtin). The only other residents are postperson and local know-all Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) and environmentalist/zoologist Dr Ellis (Rebecca Henderson) who has arrived to protest the pipeline. Despite the ranger’s geniality and community spirit — he’s a fan of Walden — he’s moved there under something of a cloud.
Joaquim (Harvey Guillén) and his husband Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) have arrived from the city. Locals include maple syrup farmer Trisha (Michaela Watkins) and her wayward husband Pete (Michael Chernus), mechanic Gwen (Sarah Burns) and the rather odd Marcus (George Basil) — actually everyone is odd, the town a “freak show” according to Cecily. Emerson Flint is the local bogeyman. That name might make him sound like the author of a Great American Novel (the film does have a Ralph Waldo connection actually) but he’s generally a community-despising hunter with signs around his property inviting unwelcome guests (ie everyone) to prepare to die.
There appear to be no other residents in Beaverfield, making it one of those teeny American “towns” that in England are stuck on hamlet status and will finally get dial-up broadband in about 2051.
Soon after Finn’s arrival a snowstorm hits the town and the power goes out. Then Trisha’s tiny dog Cha-Chi vanishes out of their dogflap while something growls outside. The local generators are found destroyed, and a body is discovered, attacked by a creature which appears to be, according to the fast-researching Dr Ellis, both human and canine. Everyone gathers at the inn to sit out the storm, relationships that are already fractured by the pipeline fragmenting still more as fear grows and accusations fly.
My notes started with “Cecily knows everything!” and moved on a few pages in to “Cecily knows EVERYTHING!” But then at some point or other I thought everyone was the werewolf, even the guy whose hand gets eaten by the actual werewolf.
Werewolves Within boasts a terrific lead performance from Richardson, who is also currently starring in sprawling blockbuster The Tomorrow War where he plays enthusiastic present day scientist and reluctant future soldier Charlie. One role may be miniature scale and local, the other about saving the human race itself; one about the monsters within, and one very definitely about the monsters without; butin both he brings humanity, warmth and pitch-perfect comic timing. While he, Curtin and Guillén are standouts, they’re not the only great performances in Werewolves Within — this is a zingy ensemble piece that fits together like a jigsaw, even while its characters are all square pegs in round holes. Stuck in the inn, it’s like a particularly well-executed farce.
For a movie that isn’t particularly frightening or gory it has a very well-paced and growing sense of menace, which infects then feeds the heightening hysteria. Because the jokes derive from characters’ unease and the splits between them, they never puncture the atmosphere or even give us room to breathe. Cutting themselves off as a group, sheltering in the inn, Beaverfield’s residents know they’ve probably locked themselves in with “it”.
Throughout, Finn attempts to bring them all together, trying to convince them that they have more in common than what separates them even at their most uncooperative, whether fighting the werewolf or their opponents in the pipeline debate.
The production design adds to characters’ confusion: the overdecorated, overstuffed wood-panelled inn has an oppressive claustrophobia, the chilly, snow-covered outdoors a relief even when they don’t know what lurks in the woods.
As usual as the credits rolled I immediately dived down Google rabbit holes. Not werewolves as I’ve done them before (did you know Cannock Chase in the UK is Werewolf Central?), but Walden, a book that creates a bonding moment between two characters. Henry David Thoreau wrote it while spending two years, two months and two days in a woodland cabin owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both were believers in transcendentalism, a philosophy that favoured intuition, self-reliance, the divinity of nature and the basic goodness of people. You can see why Finn likes it; much of it a werewolf might, too.
WHOOOOOOOdunnit? Read my very spoilery article on who dies and in what order.
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