With a “Certified Fresh” 86 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 114 reviews, Ubisoft horror comedy Werewolves Within is one of the highest rated video game movies of all time. What’s its secret? An amazing cast, clever writing, and having barely anything to do with the video game it’s based on.
Barely anyone I know played Werewolves Within, Ubisoft’s 2016 social deduction game in which players have one night to figure out which one of them is a man-eating lycanthrope. It’s essentially the video game adaptation of classic party game Mafia, created by Russian Dimitry Davidoff in the late ‘80s before mutating into a werewolf-themed joint in the late ‘90s. The virtual reality game, which has mixed reviews on Steam, is set in a medieval village and features a variety of cartoonish characters. Though Werewolves Within is not a very successful game, it shares its roots with Among Us, a very successful game indeed.
The movie Werewolves Within, released in theaters late last month and streaming now on demand, is also about a group of cartoonish characters trying to figure out which one of them transforms into a vicious man beast, but that’s where the similarities end. The medieval village has been replaced with a remote town in Vermont. The villagers are townspeople involved in an ongoing debate over whether to allow a new oil pipeline to be built or to preserve the town’s lush forests. It’s basically the same general idea in a completely different setting.
Normally a video game movie that diverges so dramatically from the source material would cause serious outrage among fans, but that’s the thing. There really aren’t many super-passionate Werewolves Within fans. Perhaps that’s one of the keys to creating a successful video game movie: pick a video game hardly anyone has played or even knows exists.
While you’re at it, go ahead and cast some of the best comedic character actors in the world to play your “villagers.” Werewolves Within’s cast is stacked with funny people you love to see on screen. Sam Richardson from Veep and The Detroiters plays Finn Wheeler, a park ranger assigned to patrol the small town of Beaverfield, Vermont during the ongoing pipeline negotiations. Finn becomes fast friends with AT&T girl Milana Vayntrub’s postal worker Cecily Moore, another newcomer to this strange little town. We’ve got Broadway actor and singer Cheyenne Jackson and What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey Guillén as the Wolfsons, a rich gay couple with unfortunate last name who moved to Beaverfield to settle down. I absolutely love Orange is the New Black’s Catherine Curtin as the owner of Beaverfield’s local inn, where the crew finds themselves holed up after a snowstorm and some mysterious animal attacks leave the town without power.
The plot of Werewolves Within is nothing new. It’s a classic whodunit mixed with some light gore, gathering gifted actors and trapping them in tight confines with a murderer on the loose. Hollywood’s been doing these sorts of flicks forever, their success hinging on the quality of their cast and the strength of the script. Werewolves Within has an outstanding cast, and it’s appropriately named scriptwriter, humorist Mishna Wolff, gives the actors plenty of fun material to work with.
Highlights include Ranger Finn and Mailman Moore’s early walk through the snowy wilds of Beaverfield, introducing the quirky cast of characters one by one while Richardson and Vayntrub’s chemistry lights up the screen. The moment from the trailer when the cast is fully-assembled at the local inn and do a quick check to see who is armed (everyone is armed) is hilarious. And any time the Wolfsons are on the screen you’re in for a good time. “Are we really in a Mexican standoff right now?” “Oh honey, don’t say Mexican, just say standoff.”
Werewolves Within is the kind of clever horror comedy that will keep you guessing up until the very end, unless you’re my spouse who figured it out in five minutes and won’t ever let me forget it. The gore is relatively mild, though there were a few times I had to turn away—let’s just say I am not a fan of bad things happening to hands. Otherwise it’s a delightful and fun little character study that just happens to have a werewolf in it, which is basically what the video game was all about. You’d know if you’d played.