Remember when rape jokes were funny? Yeah, I don’t either, but it seems the writers for Werewolves Within never matured past their edgy phase in middle school.
Director: Josh Rueben
Release Date: June 25, 2021
If that intro is confusing to you, imagine my surprise after I finished watching Werewolves Within. It’s been a few days since seeing the film and I’m still kind of reeling at how blatantly offensive the film was trying to be. If not for the overtly early 00’s vibe of edgy comedy for the sake of edginess, I don’t think anything about the film would be memorable…save for how it’s supposedly based on a video game.
Let’s rewind a little bit. Werewolves Within is a film based on a 2016 VR social deduction game of the same name from everyone’s favorite developer, Ubisoft. With the film being co-produced by the company (under its Ubisoft Film & Television Label), it’s kind of shocking how much of the humor is based on the punchline of, “this dude’s a molester.” It’s especially concerning considering Ubisoft’s history of harboring sexual predators within its ranks for years before everything blew up in the company’s face last year. Maybe lead writer Mishna Wolff assumed this film would be out before that news broke and was trying to warn everyone.
Regardless of how the production went, the end result completely misses the mark of what Wolff may have intended. Werewolves Within is a fairly simple premise for a game that works in a fashion similar to Werewolf, Mafia, and Secret Hitler. Players are situated around a campfire and have to deduce which one of them is the werewolf. If you happen to be the werewolf, you’ll need to bluff your way out of being fingered and thrown out of the village. It’s fun in the right setting and, honestly, is perfectly apt for an adaptation into a horror film.
From the outset, however, the film doesn’t seem concerned with doing anything with that setup. In the opening moments, we’re treated to a scene where a man walks outside for a smoke, gets attacked by some off-screen threat (which is obviously a werewolf), and then we flash forward exactly 29.5 days later. I’m not sure why there is such a specific time jump, but idiosyncratic humor can be chuckle-worthy.
In a rather basic cut from the man screaming to our main character yelling, we’re introduced to Finn (Sam Richardson). A newcomer to the town of Beaverfield that will be taking over as the park ranger, he’s having some trouble with his estranged girlfriend and is looking to restart his life. The scene mostly contains exposition, but there’s at least a general motivation for Finn’s involvement here.
It’s not soon after that he meets with Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), the town mail carrier. She makes some joke about a woman being a “mailman,” so yeah. That’s the type of humor you can expect throughout because it only gets worse. Since Finn is new, Cecily decides to show him around town and we’re quickly introduced to most of the main cast. There’s a mechanic lady and her deadbeat husband that are fighting in the middle of town. The mechanic even takes a wrench and starts stroking it like a penis, because of course, this film would have that kind of joke.
Once that madness is done, we meet up with Trish (Michaela Watkins) and Pete (Michael Chernus), a married couple that constantly argues over inane stuff. Trish is a racist and Pete is a molester. Not even a minute after meeting him, Pete’s trying to grope Cecily while Trish is preaching to Finn about Kwanza for some reason. I guess now is as good a time as any to bring up that Finn is black because it wouldn’t have mattered at all had the film not decided to go for edgy teenage humor.
I’ll mention this now, but I get what Werewolves Within is trying to set up. In a lot of horror films such as Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, you’ll be introduced to the main character who is the sanest person out of everyone in the cast. With the movie focusing on them and how they have to deal with hardships in their life, you’re typically rooting for the villain to kill their adversaries so that the hero can triumph. I get that Werewolves Within doesn’t want you to like these characters, but then why are all of the jokes played straight? What am I supposed to laugh at when Pete makes a move on Cecily and she says, “Stop it!”?
Okay, moving forward, we’re told that the residents of Beaverfield are constantly bickering with each other over this new gas pipeline proposal. Some people want it, others think it is encroaching on the natural beauty of the town. I honestly forgot it was a major plot point until writing this because it hardly plays any significance (save for one scene at the end). Whatever the case is, this pipeline has one man named Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshner) living away from town in the wilderness. Everyone thinks he’s a psychotic killer and his greeting to the audience is by pointing a gun in Finn’s face and saying, “You have 30 seconds to get the fuck off my property!” He even has a line about his “FREEDOM” to own property in what is the most obvious socio-political allegory I think I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, after that, we’ve met pretty much everyone and the film pushes forward with trying to establish a romantic relationship between Finn and Cecily. She invites him to her cabin after hours, she dances to “I Saw the Sign,” and then they get to talking about why Finn moved to Beaverfield. He talks about an “incident” that happened at his last job, and Cecily immediately jumps to, “Did you touch someone?” That’s not the last time rape comes up, either.
I’ll stop with the recap now as the plot proceeds as you would expect things to. Werewolves Within never tries to subvert or change the standard horror/comedy trappings that we’ve come to know and…tolerate. After reflecting on the film, I can see what the intention was here. I’m not sure why there needed to be a stereotypically gay couple, jokes about the white man being the devil, some random comment about a dog barking at “Jews and brown people,” or more attempted molestation from Pete, but everything just quickly moves from beat to beat after the heavy-handed intro.
I mentioned the film being offensive before, but I should clarify that I’m not upset at the actual content. Rape jokes aren’t funny regardless of context, but what gets me is how the film is trying to pass off shock value as actual substance. There isn’t any nuance to the jokes here as everything is delivered very straight and usually doesn’t even make sense in context. It seems like the goal was to distract from how basic the plot is by cramming in as many R-rated jokes as possible.
It’s the only thing that would explain a character calling everyone “Liberal snowflakes” or how another character talks about eating ass and fucking skulls. I also can’t stress how many times Pete brings up molesting Cecily, because it keeps happening until he’s out of the film. The only time the comedy does work is when Finn asks if everyone has a gun and 95% of the characters produce one. They even throw in a “Well, we’re in America” line, showing that clearly there was some semblance of thought put into that scene.
I’m also surprised at how the concept from the game makes an appearance…though it comes 70 minutes into this 97-minute film. Since none of the characters really act like humans (save for Finn and Cecily), it’s really not hard to figure out who the werewolf is. When the revelation comes, it doesn’t feel particularly justified, but then you’d also have to be blind to not see it coming.
Before I end this review with a downer, I must also mention that on a technical level, Werewolves Within is fine. There are some sustained shots with depth-of-field that build up to nothing, but usually, everything is within the frame and the movie doesn’t suffer from shaky cam syndrome. The acting is…passable and most of the score is original compositions. Effort was clearly put in, just not too much effort to turn things around.
I mostly don’t understand how this script got approved by anyone, let alone Ubisoft. You’d think the company would want a solid story to sell people on its relatively unknown VR game. From everything I can find, the game Werewolves Within was pretty well received. If you go off this film, you’ll likely think the game is filled with juvenile humor, loads of violence, and hackneyed writing.
I also can’t quite escape Ubisoft’s troubled history and how it felt comfortable releasing a film with rape jokes in it. Before you think that the shoddy writing is coming down to the script being passed off to a third-party studio, an article from 2018 reveals that Ubisoft was pretty heavily involved with the production. It created a specific group of women writers to pen scripts for adaptations of its IP. With that information, it only stands to reason that the higher-ups were perfectly fine with having their game be associated with sexual assault.
Far be it from me to claim that Werewolves Within is the worst movie ever made or anything. On a technical level, it’s passable. Remove all the shock humor and it would be a generic as hell horror film. The concept from the game is something that could have turned out decent on film. What sinks the whole endeavor is just that nothing ultimately comes together. That it then feels like going back in time 20 years to when sex comedies could get away with such rotten humor is like a cherry on top of a shit sundae.
I had virtually no expectations going into Werewolves Within and even those weren’t met. That should tell you everything you need to know.