Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within is a very unique lycanthrope story, in that you really don't see a lot of werewolves in it. This isn't The Howling or An American Werewolf in London, with people sprouting fangs in their mouths and hair all over their bodies. Instead, it's more like if John Carpenter's The Thing took place in the town from Northern Exposure. One of the characters is a werewolf and the others have to figure out who it is. Intentionally way more funny than scary, the movie offers an appealingly fresh take on the subject matter.

Sam Richardson plays Finn, the new park ranger in the village of Beaverfield, Vermont. On his first day in town, the local mail deliverer, Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), takes him around to meet the colorful locals. They include a thinly-veiled MAGA couple (Michaela Watkins and Michael Chernus) with dreams of opening a crafting business, a wealthy same-sex couple (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén) that runs the local yoga studio, the kooky proprietors (George Basil and Sarah Burns) of the auto repair shop, and the heavily-armed outcast (Glenn Fleshler) who lives on the outskirts of town and loathes everyone else.

These folks and a few others get stuck inside Beaverfield's inn when a snowstorm hits, knocking trees onto the main road out of town. A suspicious blackout simultaneously occurs. The biggest problem is that a werewolf has been claiming victims in the village, and the odds are it's a member of the group. As they all try to finger the guilty party, tempers flare, grudges rise to the surface, and bodies continue to pile up.

Werewolves Within is, to a large degree, a satire on how divided America has become. A subplot involving disagreement over a proposed pipeline that would come through Beaverfield sets the tone. The individuals trapped at the inn are black/white, men/women, gay/straight, and conservative/liberal. And because one of them is a werewolf, they're all quick to make assumptions about each other.

Using a werewolf as a device to examine societal distrust offers a lot of comedic possibilities, most of which the film takes. Watching the quirky citizens interact is frequently hilarious. Watkins is a particular scene-stealer, having her character casually drop bizarre right-wing comments, as when she blames a damaged sign in her front yard on Antifa. Vayntrub, recognizable as the spokeswoman on those AT&T commercials, is great, too. Her Cecily knows most of the town's secrets and is perpetually ready to drop some hot gossip. That adds to the mystery. At the center is Richardson, aptly turning Finn into a voice of reason in a scenario that grows more unreasonable by the minute.

Most of the cast members are comedians, or at least known for comedic roles. That helps keep viewers off guard. You genuinely can't figure out who the werewolf is until the big reveal at the end. When that revelation is made, it offers Werewolves Within another opportunity to skewer a cultural target -- although to specify the target would be a spoiler.

With sharp writing by Mishna Wolff, atmospheric direction from Josh Ruben, and great work from the ensemble cast, the film is consistently funny and surprising. Showing more of the wolf itself would have made the threat extra palpable, thereby giving an extra punch to the suspicious neighbors concept. That, however, is a minor complaint considering how funny and incisive Werewolves Within is.

out of four

Werewolves Within is rated R for some bloody violence, sexual references and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.