Werewolves Within: Under the Pale Moon, by David Bax
Like most horror-comedies, Josh Ruben’s Werewolves Within aims more for laughs than scares. Any time suspense is introduced, it’s almost immediately deflated by a joke, either in the script or in the filmmaking (like the repeated use of sudden edits accompanied by a whooshing noise that cut to someone doing something mundane like carrying a suitcase up a flight of stairs). This isn’t a complaint, mind you, just a description of the kind of movie we’re talking about. While there are a few other things on its mind, it never fails to prioritize being a funny and enjoyable time.
Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson), a National Park Service ranger, arrives in the small, snowy, mountain town of Beaverfield and books a room at the local inn. He’s only just met the town’s other residents–inn operator Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), mechanic Gwen (Sarah Burns) and her boyfriend Marcus (George Basil), craft-happy couple Trisha (Michaela Watkins) and Pete (Michael Chernus), retired young millionaire couple Joaquim (Harvey Guillén) and Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and survivalist loner Flint (Glenn Fleshler)–when something beastly starts picking them off one by one. The townspeople gather together at the inn for safety but simmering resentments divide them among loyalties to the other hotel guests, oil magnate Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) and environmentalist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson).
Even though Werewolves Within is, as mentioned, first and foremost a comedy, there is at least one bit of horror mood-setting for which it must be commended. For some reason, it always seems to be a challenge to make a movie feel like it takes place in a cold setting. But Ruben sells it. The sound of the wind, the snow scattering in every time a window or door is opened, the way the actors scrunch up their faces in outdoor scenes… It may make you want to reach for a coat but it also adds to the tense claustrophobia once everybody’s trapped in the lodge together.
Still, the movie’s real strength is undeniably its cast. In the two biggest roles, Richardson is doing his awkward nice guy thing to perfection while Vayntrub nails the coolest, smartest, funniest gal in town role while still making Cecily feel like a human being. And the rest of the team–most of whom you will either know by name or at least recognize from being funny in a panoply of other stuff–keep things from being boring.
Maybe that’s a low bar but Werewolves Within does occasionally reach for something more. No matter how ridiculous they are, it’s clear that the movie loves its characters, a fact which becomes especially notable the more we realize how many of them are gun-toting, right wing, rugged individualists. The animosities between them and the leftist characters are reductively drawn but not mocking or dismissive. The film’s argument for mutual civility and respect may be pollyannaish but it’s hard not to like it for trying.
Werewolves Within is no revelation but it’s competently assembled and reliably funny throughout. All that plus a bit of discount Hateful Eight? There are certainly worse ways to spend your time.