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When the best-selling author, humorist and onetime stand-up Mishna Wolff decided to take part in the Women’s Film & Television Fellowship at Ubisoft Film & Television, she was really in it for the gameplay.
“Honestly, I would have done it just for the free video games alone,” jokes Wolff about the initiative by the movie arm of the video games publisher, which aims to foster fresh, and female, perspectives on video game adaptations.
But from the stack of titles Ubisoft sent her, one wouldn’t let her go: Werewolves Within. “I kept coming back to it, there was just a story there that I was chomping at the bit to tell,” she says.
That story — Wolff’s comedy-horror take — is screening for buyers at this year’s European Film Market. The Werewolves Within movie, which Josh Ruben (Scare Me) directed, stars Veep alum Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub (This Is Us). IFC Films acquired domestic rights shortly before Berlin and will bow in the U.S. on June 25. Mister Smith Entertainment is handling international sales.
Wolff — names sometimes are destiny — transplanted the plot of the game, in which villagers in a medieval town try to figure out which one of them is a werewolf in disguise before they all get eaten, to modern-day rural Vermont.
Richardson plays our friendly neighborhood park ranger Finn, recently transferred to the isolated town of Beaverfield, where all is not as it seems. Cecily (Vayntrub), the local mail carrier and another recent arrival, gives him the lowdown: The town is divided over a proposed gas pipeline that promises to make residents rich, but could also destroy Beaverfield’s pristine natural habitat. Part of the habitat, however, is hardly bucolic: a mysterious creature has been terrorizing the community, killing the locals (and their dogs).
What follows is a winking romp through the cliches of both the horror and the whodunit genre. After the beast claims another victim, the residents of Beaverfield — a pleasing collection of archetypes, including the urbane gay couple, the gun-toting hillbillies and a Grizzly Adams–style mountain man — hole up at the local inn and start hurling accusations.
“Werewolves Within, the game, is a social deduction game, and with those, there’s the expectation that the players will be rational,” says Wolff. “But that’s a faulty expectation. When I saw people play, they’d be petty, resentful, ambitious, desirous. There were a lot of human flaws on display. That made me think: what if I took the most flawed people possible and then had them try to reason through things. That could be astonishing. And funny.”
Werewolves Within takes equal parts inspiration from Agatha Christie–style murder mysteries — “I love the movie Clue, and the new version of The Orient Express had come out a few years before I started working on this” Wolff notes — and the low-budget horror thrills of John Carpenter.
“The Thing, the John Carpenter movie, was a big inspiration,” she says. “I took part in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and when I said that John Carpenter is my favorite director — which he is — you should have seen the looks.”
Wolff’s script makes passing reference to politics and deeper social issues but the movie, with Ruben’s tight, snappy direction, keeps things light. Amid the po-faced political dramas and avant-garde art house fare that often dominates the EFM, Werewolves Within is that rarest of gems at the Berlin market: a piece of straight-up entertainment.
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