STACK chats with director Josh Ruben about bringing the hairy-whodunit video game, Werewolves Within, to the screen.
Based on the popular video game of the same name, Werewolves Within effectively relocates the tale of nine small-town bumpkins stranded in a snowstorm from its original medieval setting into contemporary USA.
Director Josh Ruben tells STACK via Zoom that the shift in time was an outlier from the very beginning, crediting screenwriter Misha Wolff with the change. “It was always a modern setting in Misha’s eyes and it only had the spirit of the medieval village from the medieval game.”
The story has a storm wreak havoc on the town of Beaverfield, with the newly appointed sheriff (Sam Richardson) finding himself stuck inside the local inn along with a colourful assortment of characters, while a werewolf terrorises from the outside.
Much like the game, the plot unfolds as a quirky whodunnit and viewers might fairly describe the movie as a cross between The Howling and Knives Out – a comparison that Ruben laps up with relish, signaling his approval with wide eyes and a cheeky chef’s kiss.
“Beautiful. I’ll take it all, man! I got to make a creature feature in my home town with my friends. I’m on cloud nine, and you can compare it all you want!”
Ruben reveals that his inspiration came from a variety of places.
“I pictured a reverent sort of stale town that you might find in Fargo. Quirky characters, yet dangerous characters that you might find in that same world. Also Arachnophobia was a massive one for me, and Hot Fuzz was one that, from a pacing standpoint, felt appropriate.”
However, his biggest point of reference isn’t far removed from Knives Out after all.
“Clue! Watching Clue in prep for Werewolves and watching how the camerawork so brilliantly captured four shots, or FIVE shots of actors and made it compelling, in a Frank Capra kind of way. It’s fun to look at and all of the actors seem to be getting their equal moments, and I’m not losing anything by not getting a close up. That was hugely inspirational. I mean I watched that movie into the ground,” he says of the 1985 mystery romp based on the board game.
Ruben’s previous film was Scare Me, which also marked his directorial debut. It was an atmospheric thriller set inside a log cabin where the characters attempted to out-scare each other with spooky stories. In respect to the setting and atmosphere, it’s not far removed from Werewolves Within – an observation that Ruben welcomes.
When we glibly ask whether Werewolves might be the middle story in a thematic trilogy, his response catches us off guard.
“That’s a great question because I am just now coming together on a concept for my ‘cornetto third’ as it were,” he says in reference to Edgar Wright’s celebrated Cornetto Trilogy comprising Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. “If I can dare compare myself to Mr. Wright” he adds with a laugh. “I think there’s a nice way to cap it off.”
He then throws a comment at us, which may be some kind of exclusive, or perhaps merely a throwaway line… “Then I’ll start a whole new chapter. Maybe before they let me reboot Darkman. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?”
Further reinforcing Werewolves Within‘s strength is the impressive ensemble cast – a line-up of seasoned performers including Sam Richardson (Veep), Milana Veyntrub (This Is Us), Wayne Duvall (A Quiet Place Part II) and Glenn Fleshler (Barry). When reflecting on casting the film, Ruben admits that it was an easy task.
“These were all offers [rather than auditions]. Every single role was an offer,” he laughs. “The movie is too small not to offer to actors, and the wonderful thing about that is that I was able to cast my friends.
“I started with George Basil (No Activity), who’s been a friend of mine for years. He’s absolutely hysterical in this movie. And then actors I dreamed of working with like Michael Churnus (Spider-man Homecoming); Cheyenne Jackson (American Horror Story), whom Harvey Guillen (What We Do In The Shadows) suggested to play his husband; and Cathy Curtain (Orange is the New Black), who I had just worked with and fell in love with.”
With its beautifully crafted production design, clever writing and perfectly nuanced performances, Werewolves Within is a treat for all who love horror movies, comedies and classic whodunnits. Ruben’s snazzy and astute direction puts him on course to becoming an exciting name within the horror community.
• Werewolves Within is in cinemas now