“Everything here is a little questionable,” says Cecily. “The people, weather, everything.”
And she would know.
Sure, Cecily’s only been delivering Beaverfield’s mail for just a month or two. But it doesn’t take more than an hour or two to realize the whole place feels a little … odd. Finn, the area’s newest park ranger, hasn’t been in the zip code long enough for a cup of coffee to get cold when Cecily offers that observation. But a quick walk around town proves she’s absolutely right.
Part of it’s the pipeline. Ever since Midland Oil proposed laying that lucrative line through town (and, of course, potentially putting at risk the pristine forests that surround it), folks in Beaverfield have been a little more snippy than usual. “Half want the pipeline cash, and half want to save the trees or whatever,” Cecily says. And local oil rep Sam Parker wants to grease the way for the pipeline any which way he can.
But let’s be honest: Even before the pipeline controversy came, most folks in Beaverfield seemed a few beans short of a casserole.
Take, for instance, Trish and Pete Anderton. Trish makes little angels out of detergent bottles, and she’d love to have a whole store from which to sell them. Her husband, Pete, grabs the privates of any passing female in range. Randy mechanics Marcus and Gwen hoot and holler like low-rent extras from the Grand Ol’ Opry—never mind that Beaverfield’s in Vermont. All four of them could use Midland’s money.
Gay couple Devon and Joaquim could care less about the cash, since they’ve got plenty, thanks. Jeanine, who owns the local inn, relies more on the trees than the oil for her livelihood, too. Why, that inn is all the old girl has left these days, ever since her husband reputedly packed up with another woman and headed to Belize.
And we can’t forget Emerson Flint, of course—as much as he’d like us to. It’s hard to know just what Flint thinks of the pipeline, given that he tends to shoot at anyone who sets foot on his land. (The fact that he drapes himself in a bear pelt probably doesn’t encourage neighborly relations much, either.)
But as odd as Beaverfield might feel to Finn as he meets its most prominent citizens, it’s about to get a whole lot weirder.
Finn discovers that Jeanine’s long-lost husband didn’t leave town after all. He’s been under the inn’s porch the whole time. Well, minus a few missing chunks here and there.
Yes, it seems as quirky little Beaverfield has a quirky little killer in its midst. A coyote? Doubtful. Wolf? Possibly. Human? Could be, too.
Or it could be a little bit of all of ’em, rolled up into one.
One would not think that a bloody horror comedy would begin with a quote from Mister Rogers. But indeed it does: “Listening is where love begins,” the screen reads as ominous sounds screech and wail in the background. “Listening to ourselves, and then our neighbors.”
But it’s fitting, because underneath all the blood and death and such, Werewolves Within is all about two very Mister Rogers-style themes: being nice and being neighborly.
Much of Beaverfield could use a primer on both, and Finn seems like just the guy to give them one. He tries to encourage the people of Beaverfield to work together and to support each other. He tries to do what’s right every time he’s on screen. And while Finn’s core decency is treated like a stain on his character for a good chunk of the film, we in the audience know better.
It’s time to talk werewolves, an inherently supernatural critter from folklore and legend. An environmental scientist declares early on that a werewolf is on the prowl. And even as many initially dismiss her hysterical statement as a product of overwork and alcohol, the werewolf theory feels more credible to them as the film runs on.
Naturally, we hear a great deal about the nature of lycanthropy: For instance, Joaquim recalls that folks in his hometown fervently believed that every seventh child was born a werewolf. Jeanine, oddly, has a pretty grotesque picture of a werewolf (with a human baby in its jaws) hanging up in the inn’s hallway. We briefly hear references to other hungry shapeshifters, too.
Trish considers herself religious. She has a cross hanging up in her house (one that suffers a bit of damage as the film goes on), and she accuses those who don’t support the pipeline of taking money from “honest, God-fearing people.” When her dog (Chochi) is snatched (and presumably killed) early on, she declares that the “devil ate my baby”. But Devon—one half of Beaverfield’s rich gay couple—suggests that perhaps it was just as well. “I don’t mean to be rude, but your dog only barked at Jews,” he says.
We hear references to yoga and meditation. When someone brushes against a belt of bells, Pete suggests that some of the movie’s fatalities have gotten their wings (a nod, of course, to the angels in It’s a Wonderful Life).
Pete treats his wedding vows a little like some pro basketball players treat traveling: If it’s not called, play on. He grabs Gwen’s rear (and we hear that the two had at least one sexual encounter elsewhere), reaches for Cecily’s posterior and essentially propositions every female in the movie. (When the characters are trapped in Jeanine’s inn and Finn suggests that guns should be in every room, Pete announces that he and his gun are available.)
Finn and Cecily see gay couple Devon and Joaquim through the latter’s storefront window, where it appears that Devon is practicing accupressure on Joaquim’s upper thigh. Devon greets the two onlookers, then closes the curtain and tells Cecily to leave the mail on the front porch. They later announce that they’re trying to have a baby.
Gwen and Marcus engage in some seriously lewd flirting. As mentioned, there’s a rumor that Jeanine’s husband ran away with someone else, and Jeanine tearfully says that someone accused her of “letting herself go.” Finn and Cecily seem to be attracted to each other; Cecily’s top reveals a bit of cleavage as she dances, and the two nearly kiss. (We hear about Finn’s ex-girlfriend, too—a girl that Finn didn’t know had broken up with him until Cecily explained it to him.)
A woman is seen naked from the shoulders up. Midland Oil has a small facsimile of a working, flaming oil well in town, which someone refers to as a “phallic fire totem.” Someone frets about being too “heteronormative.”
Werewolves are not dainty eaters. But the people here aren’t so keen on protecting life and limb, either.
We see a couple of people dragged off by a fearsome beast (though said beast is not seen). The body of one victim is later discovered, partly eaten. (We hear that its leg muscles had been severed—the beast’s way of making sure the man couldn’t get away.) Another loses his fingers, and we see the bloody, mangled hand. A couple of other folks are attacked on screen by the monster, too—suffering bites (naturally). And, of course, Chochi the dog is apparently devoured whole. We hear the werewolf ate other people, too.
A woman apparently shoots and kills herself—though another was with her behind closed doors, and there’s some question about whether it might be a murder instead. Several others suffer—and sometimes die—from bullet wounds, and one such death is accompanied by a spray of gore against a truck window.
People suffer crossbow injuries, too, and at least two die in an explosion. Folks are stabbed with various implements, including knives and sharpened wooden stakes. Someone straps on Freddie Kruger-like, blade-covered glove. Mace is effectively sprayed. A diesel-soaked knife is brandished.
As mentioned, we see a pretty grotesque old-timey woodcut picture of a werewolf walking away with a baby clutched in its maw. Bloody images flash across a screen, and press clippings detail previous mysterious deaths in nearby communities. Flint greets guests with guns (threatening to use them unless they leave immediately) and entertains visitors with blood-covered hands (apparently the result of butchering an animal off camera). Inanimate objects bear the signs of some really large, sharp animal claws. (We’re told the town’s generators were all damaged, and rendered ineffective, by something similar.)
Finn and Cecily hurl axes at a deserted bar, with Cecily calling them “murder weapons.” Naturally, said axes are later hurled in a more perilous context.
Finn spends most of the movie avoiding profanity—earning a measure of derision from others because of his awe-shucks way of talking. Others, however, do not curb their language nearly as effectively.
We hear the f-word more than 30 times and the s-word about half that many. Other profanities proliferate as well, including “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “crap,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused a dozen times, once with the word “d–n.”
We also hear plenty of crudities, too, including “whoremouth” and “dildo” as well as a crass word for testicles. (Finn is encouraged, via self-help recording, to shout the word over and over again.)
Pete drinks heavily from a flask after being severely damaged himself. An environmental scientist also drinks from a flask, as she studies the deaths and becomes more and more convinced that the attacker is something unimaginable. Finn and Cecily drink beer in a deserted bar. Someone drinks wine straight out of a bottle.
A character smokes cigarettes. Gwen asks Malcom if he’s high. “Drinking and driving is for dummies!” Malcom shouts back.
Beaverfield is populated by a bevy of satirical stereotypes. Conservatives Trish and Pete huff after their pro-Midland yard sign is defaced by the “Antifa,” and Trish asks Finn (who is Black) whether he decorates a Kwanzaa tree every year. Isolationist Flint bullies Finn off his property, saying, “I don’t recognize your job, your uniform or the government you work for.” Gay couple Devon and Joaquim frequently call people out for suspected (and sometimes imagined) racism and serve as caricatures of a conservative’s idea of liberal snowflakes. And so on.
Someone is lying about his or her own true nature.
Werewolves Within is a strange beast. So to speak.
It takes its title from an E-rated videogame—one where the participants sit around a virtual reality fire and try to guess which one of them is secretly a werewolf.
As far as I can tell, the movie pretty much scrapped everything but the title and the werewolf. And to that barest of bare bones, filmmakers added a dollop of CBS’s old classic dramedy Northern Exposure; a healthy splash of the whodunit Knives Out; and a heaping helping of blood, gore and R-rated language.
Oh, and it stirs in some additional subtext, too.
The moral of many a horror story is pretty simple: Whatever fearsome creatures may lurk in the shadows, the real monsters are us. Why, AMC has mined that basic theme for 10 seasons of The Walking Dead (and a bevy of spinoffs to boot).
Werewolves Within takes that moral and turns it rabid. Outside of Finn and Cecily, the folks we meet here are satirically comic tropes, more or less—designed by its creators, I think, to give us a microcosm of (what they see as) our own fractured society. Everyone in Beaverfield has long had their differences, the movie suggests—but they all got along. Until, that is, the oil controversy bent tensions to the breaking point, and the apparent werewolf finished the deal. And the werewolf, whoever or whatever it is, isn’t nearly as deadly as your very own scared, angry neighbors.
In the midst of all these societal fissures stands Finn, pleading for a little kindness, a little neighborliness, quoting Mister Rogers whenever he has the opportunity. And as people constantly accuse him of being just a little too nice, he finally shoots back.
“I’m a nice person!” he finally admits, tired of trying to excuse away his true nice nature. “I’m considerate! I’m compassionate! I care! Nothing’s wrong with me! It’s f—ing OK to be nice!”
And therein lies the movie’s not-so-nice teeth.
Werewolves Within is clever indeed. But there’s a certain irony in making a movie about being nice—framed by an all-audience, everyone-can-play videogame at that—and turning it into an R-rated, gore-soaked, profanity-laden horror flick.
And while critics might appreciate the movie’s humor, wit and socio-political undertones, I have a suspicion that Mister Rogers himself would not approve.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.