The characters are given lively embodiments all around, and the set-up is irresistible. (Plus, it’s exciting to see a sense of humor mixed with 1974’s “The Beast Must Die,” a bad-ass, more straightforward ensemble werewolf whodunit that’s all about its guessing game.) But as you’re going from one goofy scene to the next, something is holding “Werewolves Within” back from completely launching into the stratosphere. It’s the werewolf problem, which the script tries to make legitimate with accusations and twists, while minimizing its comedic dialogue to amusing but throwaway lines that characters seem to say under their breath. The tense distrust between its secretive characters builds and builds, climaxing to a kooky slaughter with some savvy in-camera gags, and yet the comedy noticeably does not build. “Werewolves Within” is a fun movie that has a rich air of silliness but it has less souvenirs, less memorable lines, than you’d hope. “What is this, Dumbass Island?” is my favorite line from the movie, maybe because it’s exclaimed so forcefully by Gwen, but I had forgotten about this gem until my third time watching it. An even wilder script could have given us so many more, especially since the cast is so clearly game.
It seems telling that some of the movie’s weakest moments involve the ensemble all together, in the same shot. As they stand around Jeanine’s hotel, everyone gets stuffed into a static frame, fighting for our attention as the whodunit question hangs overhead. The foreground and background of certain shots are filled and the dialogue bounces back and forth; you might miss a main joke’s full impact because this visual approach doesn’t always guide your eye, when it needs to do just that. These thwarted moments go against the otherwise impressive tone that Ruben gets from his juggling act that includes some shocking violence, cutting back and forth between all of these personal beefs, and the ruling goal to keep it fast-paced.
But Ruben is a helluva party host; he proved that with just three characters total in “Scare Me,” and most of their activities involved telling spooky stories around a fireplace. Here, he lets loose with many of the goofy, creepy impulses that make him such a welcome voice in crowd-pleasing horror, creating a giddy spirit with his long roster of future household names. All in a blood-gushing tale that Mr. Rogers would be proud of, and one that winds up to a main character shouting at the top of their lungs, “IT’S OK TO BE NICE.” Consider this an endorsement of “Werewolves Within,” but also the good heart that’s clearly behind it.
Now playing in theaters and available to rent everywhere July 2.