Sam Richardson and the gang howl up some laughs in this Indie take on a video game.
It’s not often I see an independent film based on a video game, and it’s not often I see one so smart and funny at the same time. Released by IFC Films, it’s hard to believe “Werewolves Within” is based on a video game, because it doesn’t follow the video game rules: it’s all action and special effects and less story. “Rampage,” “Resident Evil,” and “Mortal Kombat” all knew how to make some extra cash without being smart or inventive. This one, however, is presented in an awkwardly humorous nature that decides when it wants to be funny, when it wants to be scary, and when it wants to be somewhat nostalgic.
Sam Richardson has gained more attention with role on “Veep,” but I’ve enjoyed him in movies like “Good Boys,” “Spy,” and I thought he had some funny moments in the lamely conceived “Super Intelligence.” Now, with “Werewolves Within,” he’s taking on the lead role with his own comedic style and delivers with a certain kind of pace. I often think that today’s comedy actors (Charlie Day, Eric Andre, etc.) deserve better than they’re credited for, so a supporting comic relief actor deserves to take the lead every now and then. It’s proof they can’t always be the one to say one-liners or be the sidekicks.
Richardson plays a socially awkward and very nice ranger named Finn Wheeler, who arrives in a new Vermont town called “Beaverfield.” He was transferred there after being tricked into fishing without a permit, which got on social media. He’s also trying to make contact with his girlfriend, who tells him she needs some space. His new postal worker friend Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) isn’t convinced she needs a break from, and neither are we.
The town, however, ends up being attacked by a werewolf, who also cuts off their power and internet. We, the audience, know it’s a werwolf, but do the residents? Trapped in the main lodge, the town folks include a maple farming couple (Michaela Watkins and Michael Chernus), who loses her little dog to the creature; a Wolf detective (Rebecca Henderson), who has her lab equipment to see who the culprit is; a jerky couple (George Basil and Sarah Burns); an evil industrialist (Wayne Duvall); a skittish middle-aged woman (Catherine Curtin) who lost her husband to the beast; a flamboyantly gay couple (Harvey Guillen and Cheyenne Jackson), who both act like millionaires; and a hermit (Glenn Fleshler from “Joker”), who is asked by Finn and Cecily to track it. I wasn’t always able to read their aspects, but they do share their moments and perspectives, and are actually very funny.
When everyone learns that the attacker is not human and it could be one of them, they start to turn on one another. But before they decide to rip off “The Thing,” they decide to lock away all their guns until they find the real culprit. But most of people still have to get killed in that manner.
“Werewolves Within” is a movie that doesn’t snap to conclusions on who the real werewolf is, and relies on honesty and and levity to ease us in on the case. At times, we acknowledge not everyone is who they appear to be. They can either be too nice, too creepy, or too mean to not be a suspect, and it’s not supposed to be the main protagonist, but it does have fun trying to trick us into believing that would be a twist. It’s not always understandable in the twists and turns, but it’s whimsical the way director Josh Ruben leads the actors in those paths.
Richardson has the likability as the movie nice guy who gets a little mistreated but mans up. Vayntrub has her moments with her innocence, while Guillen (TV’s “What We Do in the Shadows”), Chernus, and Watkins are all hilariously wacky, and Fleshler does a nice job as a hermit who acts all creepy and dangerous. Matter of fact, they all deserve more credit than they’re usually given, and this movie is a chance for them to expand their horizons.
And as I finished watching this movie, I still wasn’t convinced this was a movie based on a video game, because it doesn’t act like one, and that’s refreshing. It’s supposed to act like an Indie with a sense of nostalgia, and on that level, it howls up a storm.
In Select Theaters This Friday
On Demand July 2