The horror comedy “Werewolves Within” didn’t quite do the trick for me. But it’s a great example of how hitting the right tone can keep you watching, even if the “horror” isn’t all that and not nearly enough jokes land.
Screenwriter Mishna Wolff, director Josh Ruben and a collection of generally funny actors from “Veep,” “30 Rock” and “The Unicorn” wring out some of the possibilities of a tale of people trapped in a snowed-in lodge while under assault by werewolves. Yes, they were adapting a video game.
But while they get the tone right and the “types” are filled with comic possibilities, they lean on that hoary murder mystery “gather the suspects by the fire” gimmick at their own peril.
And if there’s one thing that really doesn’t work here, it’s “Are the werewolves outside, or in here with us?” gimmick.
Sam Richardson plays the new Forest Service Ranger in Beaverfield, Vermont. But the town is sharply divided over some rich oil man’s (Wayne Duvall) planned pipeline. It’s become a political bone of contention that has even the seemingly “nice” people there at each other’s throats. And on the day Finn Wheeler arrives, a blizzard is blowing in.
“This is Us” alumna Milana Vayntrub is Cecily, the bantering, on-the-make new postmistress who is Finn’s guide to “the freak show” that is the town. Stoners, wingnuts, at least one of them a bit pervy, a mountain man survivalist (Glenn Fleshler), a rich gay couple (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén), and so on. Colorful? A little bit.
There’s a visiting scientist (Rebecca Henderson) “here to stop the pipeline.” And Michaela Watkins stands out as the loopy, small-dog loving gift-shop flake. Uh, don’t get too attached to the dog.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but your dog only barked at Jews….” “And BROWN people.”
Too soon, rich gays. Too soon.
Director Ruben keeps the dialogue exchanges snappy, makes the attacks lightning quick, and plays around with comically quick entrances and exits. But “quick” doesn’t lead to “brisk,” in this comedy’s case. The pacing is off.
There’s zero urgency in their dilemma. Richardson’s ranger isn’t just slow on the uptake, he’s slow reacting.
A few lines score — “What IS this? Dumbass Island?” “Oh don’t tell me we’ve got a Mexican standoff!” “Baby, don’t say ‘MEXICAN.’ Just ‘standoff!“
But too many don’t. And as it turns out, the most potent line could be trotted out as the best possible review for this near miss. Which I will…trot out.
“I feel like I’m at one of those dinner theater murder things. I’m having a horrible time and I can’t go home.”
MPA Rating: R for some bloody violence, sexual references and language throughout
Cast: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Catherine Curtin, Cheyenne Jackson, Michael Chernus, Harvey Guillén, Wayne Duvall and Michaela Watkins.
Credits: Directed by Josh Ruben, script by Mishna Wolff. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:36