The promotions for Werewolves Within keep comparing it to Knives Out, and let’s be honest, that’s an extremely generous comparison. It’s absolutely not a bad movie, and it’s got a lot of clever ideas. Plus it has an assertiveness that’s nice to see — it clearly knows what messages it wants to deliver — and is especially rare in any adaptation, video game or otherwise. But I spent most of it with the feeling that its reach exceeded its grasp, and it was ultimately carried by some great casting.
I really like Milana Vayntrub (I’m mostly a fan from @midnight), which isn’t all that surprising, since being intensely charming and like-able is kind of her whole thing. That like-ability is used perfectly in a movie like this.
I’m also a fan of Michaela Watkins, who’s appropriately over-the-top; and Harvey Guillén, who’s disappointingly over-the-top. I appreciate his not just repeating the understated Guillermo from What We Do In The Shadows (which is the only other thing I’ve seen him in), but he and Cheyenne Jackson play a shrieking, stereotypically bitchy and self-obsessed gay couple that’s not really offensive so much as completely uninspired. The rest of the cast seems like they’re doing everything they can with the material they’ve been given. Sometimes it works.
But the standout is Sam Richardson as Finn Wheeler. This is the first thing I’ve seen him in — and remembered, anyway; apparently he was in Drunk History and the 2016 Ghostbusters — and he’s great in it. He starts the movie as a guy who’s just too nice for his own good, which is a character flaw that goes off in a direction I didn’t expect. His character is the core of the movie not just because he’s the protagonist, but because his character development is key to what the movie’s trying to say.
Considering that this was a movie loosely based on a VR social deduction game loosely based on a party card game, the fact that it was trying to say anything at all was appreciated. From what little I know of the game, the movie isn’t a direct adaptation, because that would’ve been a mistake. Instead, it goes for the fun suspicion and paranoia that makes a social deduction game.
I’d been hoping that this might capture the feel of The Beast Must Die, which is in retrospect a social deduction movie and which I love beyond any rational measure. Werewolves Within didn’t manage that, and it didn’t even seem that that was what it was going for. It was more than anything going for comedy, and so much of what makes mystery stories, horror stories, or werewolf stories was only obliquely hinted at if mentioned at all. (For horror cowards like myself: it’s really not scary or gory, and I think all of the R rating was for language).
Instead, you just get to spend an hour and a half with some good actors and a frequently clever script. You could do a lot worse!