[Review] 'Beast Within' is a Werewolf Mystery with Characters as Flat as the Cards of the Game It's Based On
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayer by night, may become a wolf when the cards are laid down and the autumn moon is bright…
…We’ve seen films based off of all sorts of IPs. Videogames. Board games. And now, with director Chris Green (Zombie Werewolves Attack) and Steven Morana’s Beast Within, we have the first ever werewolf film based off of a card game, “Werewolf”, in which one or more players is a werewolf, with the others playing as villagers who must discover said werewolf before they all die. Great card game, but not exactly howling with originality for a film’s source material.
Beast Within, written by Matthew Campagna, Rudy Jahchan (both of whom worked on the script for the not so great werewolf flick Hunter’s Moon), follows August (Morana), one of the developers of the gaming app “Werewolves Awaken”, who is attending a fancy smancy launch party for the game, where he also plans on meeting his online girlfriend for the first time, Cheyenne (Holly Deveaux). Soon though, the guests discover that the party has been infiltrated by a werewolf, and must sniff him/her out before it kills them all.
Now that’s a party! At least it would be, if Beast Within wasn’t so full of robotic characters and a suspense level on par with watching hair grow. And no, dropping beats that come in and out at questionable points all throughout definitely does not help.
When Beast Within opens with a monotone, unexcited voiceover from Morana, delivering on the snout dialogue like “we were in very different game that night. We were the game,” the film is in trouble. And by the time Morana/August is done running us through exactly how he feels about each and every character, all the way from wolf in Dos Equis guy clothing boss Brian (Art Hindle) to oddball best friend Stan (Marco Timpano), who August trusts “more than anyone” despite not having knowing each other that long, it’s clear that the film may have a Clue-type setup, but no one in this cast can even begin to sniff the entertainment value that are those characters.
A major element of the “Werewolf” game is that everyone has a role, whether it be a werewolf, villager, witch, priest, etc., and those roles are all filled, some obvious such as the priest with Father Roman (Colm Feore) and others not so obvious, like Brian’s wife Veronica (Melissa D’Agostino), aka the Seer. Beast Within deserves a hairy pat on the back for attempting to fill all of the roles of the game, but it does it in such a hairy ham-fisted way, that very few of these characters feel natural.
Actually no, scratch that. None of them feel natural. These characters are as flat in Beast Within as they are in the “Werewolf” game, filling the basic labels their characters are molded after and nothing else. Outside of a few odd character attributes like Brian wearing a silver bullet around his neck, everyone in Beast Within is so deadpan, that it actually somewhat works to the film’s benefit, because no one stands out in such a way that had me thinking, “oh, that must be the werewolf”. First and foremost, Beast Within is a werewolf mystery, combining elements of films like The Beast Must Die and Howling V: The Rebirth (both far more interesting), and so, while it would’ve been nice to have a quirkier cast, the film provides an intriguing mystery that will keep you guessing until the hairy end, simply because everyone is so blah that anyone could be the werewolf!
And thank god for lines like a random girl at the party saying to August, “I want you to see my gooey,” because as ridiculous as lines like this are, at least they get a snicker where the tired cast does not. Note to everyone: this is not an effective pickup line. At least it hasn’t worked for me.
Here I am, going on about cast and comedy when all you really want to know is the only thing that matters in a werewolf film: the werewolves themselves. And oh yes, my lycan-loving friend, Beast Within gets that part right. We don’t see them often or all that clearly, but the filmmakers of Beast Within know what werewolf fans want. These werewolves are big. Intimidating. Nasty. And best of all, they’re costumes instead of howling, CGI game characters (and the couple shots that do use CG are in silhouette power-poses against the moon, and I’m okay with that). Throats are torn open. Bodies are decapitated. Said bodies are oddly left with the game cards such as “villager” identifying who they are like some kind of lycan-serial killer calling card. All of it leaving werewolf fans with at least a couple howl-worthy moments of bloody entertainment.
Despite its long list of flaws, Beast Within sets out to capture the essence of the game it’s based on, and it does exactly that. Beast Within is just like many a night I’ve spent playing “Werewolf”. It’s mostly people arguing over who the werewolf is, killing each other over a snide remark, and even the occasional flirting. Hey, when you’re a dork, sometimes game night is the best time to meet people. Said debating and character conflict is a big ole toothy yawn in Beast Within with little to actually like about anyone, but the “Werewolf” game elements are at least all there.
Beast Within lacks all of the essentials to make it a werewolf film with fangs, the half-hearted social commentary on “tribes” misses the mark with no such groups forming against each other in the film, but plenty of blood is spilled, the dialogue is so awkwardly bad you can’t help but laugh, and the werewolves look fantastic, leaving Beast Within as a Sunday afternoon killer best watched with your favorite movie-enhancing products to go with the smoky corridors of the mansion and the film’s love of randomly dropping club beats.
I’d still rather just play “Werewolf”, though.
Beast Within is now out on VOD from Stone Cutter.
By Matt Konopka