Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Wayne Duvall, Rebecca Henderson, Glenn Fleshler
Written by: Mishna Wolff
Directed by: Josh Ruben
MPAA Rating: R for some bloody violence, sexual references and language throughout
Running Time: 100
Date: 06/25/2021

Werewolves Within (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Claw Larks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Re-capturing that specific brand of left-field, self-aware, weirdo humor of his feature debut, Scare Me, director Josh Ruben improves his game with this tricky, character-rich horror/comedy/mystery.

US Forest Service Ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) reports for work in the small town of Beaverfield. The town's citizens are a strange lot, a mix of recluses, yokels, and snooty, wealthy people looking to get away from city life. Only kooky mail carrier Cecily Moore (Milana Vayntrub) seems friendly, and she and Finn quickly bond.

The townspeople are currently fighting over a proposed gas pipeline, but that argument is set aside when a mauled, bloody corpse is discovered. Additionally, all of the town's power boxes have been ripped apart with what appears to be powerful claws. The arguing ensemble collectively decides to take shelter in the inn, where they must address an insane idea: there's a werewolf on the loose, and it could be any one of them!

Fairly light on scares and gore, Werewolves Within is really more along the lines of something like Clue or Knives Out. Richardson makes a wonderful character here, kind (he quotes Mr. Rogers!), a little henpecked by his unseen, soon-to-be-ex girlfriend, and really working hard to find his courage and leadership abilities. He's perfectly matched by Vayntrub, known for her dozens of AT&T television ads, as a lovable, observant, and strong-willed partner; their chemistry is strong and instant.

The movie's humor — such as Finn's repeated use of "Heavens to Betsy" and his affinity for snowshoes — comes in rather sideways, and it may not seem very funny in the moment, but it's the kind of humor that sneaks up on you, and — like Clue — will be funnier in subsequent viewings.

The supporting characters are introduced as "types" with one or two personality traits, but Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff smooth out everything into a cohesive tapestry of weirdness, with each character nicely balancing the others. Werewolves Within eventually devolves into the usual bloody free-for-all showdown following the big reveal, but it still retains its cleverness.

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