At first blush, you shouldn’t care that the new comedy-horror indie Werewolves Within is based on a VR video game, and is produced by the French gaming company Ubisoft. The film freely launches into a precision-timed farce mode, in which a guileless replacement Forest Service ranger (Sam Richardson) arrives in an intensely conflicted but super-cute Vermont town, which has been simultaneously invaded by a fracking company, a subpopulation of wealthy urban forever-tourists, and, apparently, a lycanthrope.
The familiar-face cast has a collective century of comic seasoning, from CollegeHumor to SNL to Veep to Glee to Drunk History, and everyone’s a quick-talking, hairpin-turn riot, especially Milana Vayntrub’s chatty-pixie mailwoman, Michaela Watkins’s frazzled battle-ax, and Michael Chernus’s sarcastic schlub. Written by stand-up memoirist Mishna Wolff and directed by Josh Ruben with overlap-busy deftness, this satiric portrait of new New England in full bicker battle is light enough on its toes to make you wish the film didn’t have to swerve toward dealing with rampaging beast attacks. Even the tame plot references (Jaws, The Thing) and full-blown caricatures — flouncy gays, uptight Karens, crazed hermits — go down like Prosecco.
Unfortunately, in the end, the game-ish-ness in the DNA isn’t the handicap — it’s the cliched concept and the rote guess-who-it-is shouting matches, all leading to a run of tasteless murder humor (not so funny, when the characters are so likable), the inevitable surprise ending (with exposition), and the unsurprising wolfperson face-off, stretch, yawn. You can’t have everything. ❖
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