Werewolves Within Review: The first great video game movie
In a time where video game adaptations are cropping up all over the place but still aren’t finding that sweet spot to earn critical acclaim and/or big box-office success, the first truly great video game movie comes from an unexpected place.
Personally, as big-name franchises like Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and even Sonic the Hedgehog made their ways to the big screen, I would’ve thought that one of them would’ve held the title of being the first authentically great video game movie. While Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu are pretty good/great, that title oddly goes to an adaptation of a game that isn’t too widely known and comes from an unexpected studio in the form of IFC Film’s latest release Werewolves Within. IFC Films is generally known for putting out artsier indie flicks, so the fact that they’re releasing a video game adaptation speaks to the greater respect that video game narratives are getting from the film industry.
The game of the same name that the film is based on is a 2016 VR game developed by Red Storm Entertainment and published by Ubisoft is basically another version of Mafia or Werewolf where players guess and make accusations about other players in order to identify the player who is a werewolf. However, the film trades in the game’s medieval fantasy setting for the snow-filled small mountain town of Beaverfield. Here, we are introduced to the town’s timid new forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) as well as a colorful cast of characters. However, after one of their own is found dead, accusations begin to be thrown around about who the culprit is and if they are harboring a deadly secret with teeth.
If you’ve ever played this game or Mafia, this film totally captures the vibes of that game and utilizes its whodunnit aspects well to create this tantalizing mystery. With Beaverfield only having a few residents, we quickly learn everyone’s quirks and their beefs with one another. Couple Devon (Cheyenne Jackson) and Joaquim (Harvey Guillen) have strife with the narrow-minded Trisha (Michaela Watkins) about their differing views. Trisha also has some distaste for some of the women in town because of her husband Pete’s (Michael Chernus) touchiness and a past hookup with local mechanic Gwen (Sarah Burns). Not to mention, everyone is feuding over businessman Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) coming into town and dividing them over whether or not they should sell their lands so he can build a pipeline.
The blood of the town is boiling aplenty before any bodies are found and it’s not too long until accusations start being thrown around – especially when a local scientist believes that one of them is a werewolf. Even when answers seem clear, there’s always something that makes you question if your own accusations are wrong. The film doesn’t necessarily take this big step in challenging your perceptions about people’s bias, mentality, or position through its characters, but it does create this enticing mystery that has you hooked. Not even Finn or the sweet love interest he has in mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) escape being accused since they’re newbies in town and even though the local hermit Flint (Glenn Fleshier) is so scary no one wants to go directly accuse him, he’s pretty suspect.
It’s amazing how this film really captures the game’s experience well and creates these moments that feel like they would actually happen in the game. From the way and reasoning that people accuse one another to the twists and turns that come into play as people’s greater roles are unveiled, there’s a great sense of authenticity here that’s been missing from a lot of video game adaptations. The entire last act is wild as hell as things really boil over and blood begins to spill. It feels exactly like that moment in playing a game like this where the clock is running out and people are just desperately pointing fingers in hopes of hitting the werewolf.
The film is a great showing of small-town spaffs becoming something much more devastating and the way the film tries to alleviate the town of its anger is kind of nice. Finn delivers a really strong monologue about overcoming differences that might not work in getting people to stop pointing the finger but leaves an impactful message. It’s also interesting how the film even begs the question if there’s a werewolf at all or if there’s just someone trying to divide the town in order to conquer it for themselves. It’s a debate that’s played out very well and answered in a horrifying fashion that makes its unexpected antagonist much scarier. The film might have a slow start in getting to its most thrilling parts, but it really cranks things up and alleviates some of the slower moments with some great comedic performances.
Werewolves Within is a great blend of horror, drama, and comedy with its great cast. Richardson is really great as a lead and makes Finn’s desires to “man up” always hilarious as he timidly tries to get to the bottom of things in the midst of the town’s drama. His whole opening is hilarious and the chemistry he has with Vayntrub, who is great throughout and especially at the end, is awesome. His arc in finding his manhood is also surprisingly solid as he not only staves off leaning into toxic masculinity but ends up growing the confidence he’s looking for in becoming proud of his niceness. Honestly, the whole cast is great with some of the funny interactions and confrontations they have and the editing and score from Anna Dubrich add to the comedy with how they feel right at home with a classic whodunnit.
Werewolves Within officially claim the title as the best video game movie to date and is a really great horror comedy whodunnit to boot. It’s tantalizing mystery and colorful cast of characters authentically evoke the vibes of the game while the great performances, excellently led by Richardson and Vayntrub, and filmmaking add in some dashes of delightful comedy.