The gloriously chaotic humor of ‘Werewolves Within’ brings it to life

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(Clockwise from lower right) Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Catherine Curtin, Harvey Guillen, Cheyenne Jackson, George Basil and Sarah Burns in WEREWOLVES WITHIN.

Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week. 

Werewolves Within is part creature feature, part murder mystery, and part action movie, but what stays with you after Josh Ruben’s horror comedy is the latter part — a distinct, quirky sense of humor that permeates from Mishna Wolff’s script into every other part of the film.

Mashable loved Wolff’s script, which Adam Rosenberg praised for its “inherent wholesomeness” and distinct characters. We spoke with Wolff about her comedy influences, life as a “humorist,” and what makes Werewolves Within pop off the page.

“My first task was to serve the whodunnit,” Wolff says of film’s central mystery. “My second task was to create tension in the script, and my third task was actually laughs.”

Wolff enjoys “a lot of chaos” in writing an ensemble feature like this (“I probably have ADD”): overlapping dialogue, quick pacing, throwaway lines. Her writing set the tone for Ruben’s direction, for Brett Bachman’s edit, and for an impressive comedy cast to find their own rhythm within the words.

“Writing for ensembles is a challenge in itself,” she adds. “Splitting the party so that you can get this conversation going over here and this conversation in the kitchen, this one in the fireplace — that’s also part of a challenge that I really enjoyed when writing the script.”

Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) moves to the bizarre town of Beaverfield, which is attacked by a mysterious creature that might be a werewolf.

Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) moves to the bizarre town of Beaverfield, which is attacked by a mysterious creature that might be a werewolf.
Credit: ifc films

Wolff was inspired by John Carpenter horror movies as much as the work of Edgar Wright and films like Clue. She wrote the script without any director attached, so it was her work that would attract the right collaborator. Ruben’s sensibilities immediately lined up with hers and with how the Ubisoft development team conceived the script. Wolff loved his previous film Scare Me, and Ruben would go on to provide helpful edits like combining two characters and paring down the more impractical scenes.

“When I sent to set, there were moments where I’m like, ‘Why is it moving so slowly? This is supposed to be fast, right?'” she recalls. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh, they’re just getting clean reads and they’ll tighten it up in post, and a lot of that is what happened.’ A script is a blue print for a bigger commodity and then everyone comes on board and they do their magic. What was great about this particular collaboration was that everyone was really on the same page as far as the tone and the pacing.”

It’s hard now to look at the film and parse which moments came from whom. A scene where all the characters carry guns barely changed through multiple drafts. Certain lines stumped the actors until Wolff clarified that they were asides, not punch lines. Watching the cast come together — many of whom have worked together — was a highlight for Wolff, who prefers not to perform her own material.

“I would write a joke and I was like, ‘Oh, this is a great Demetri Martin joke. It’s not in my voice, I can’t deliver it, it’s not for me, but I conceived of this joke and I don’t want to throw it away.’ Then I’d write another one and be like, ‘Oh, this is a great Maria Bamford joke, but it’s not a Mishna Wolff joke’… so not feeling like I had my own voice was totally part of my dilemma as a stand up, that is not a problem as a screenwriter.”

Michaela Watkins is just one of many actors having an absolute blast in "Werewolves Within."

Michaela Watkins is just one of many actors having an absolute blast in “Werewolves Within.”
Credit: ifc films

Wolff wrote Werewolves Within with notes and mood boards, maps of the town of Beaverfield and a deep understanding of every character.

“I think the most important thing is that characters have a really strong point of view, they have a worldview that is identifiable [and] people feel like they know someone like that,” Wolff says. “The times where I haven’t done the work to solidify for myself what their life credo is, a sort of organizing viewpoint on the world — not doing that work makes the humor really generic and dull, and the writing and the dialogue.”

Some 10 or 15 years ago, Wolff was entrenched in the comedy world, unsure what her voice and style would be. She recalls complaining about it to fellow comedian Colin Quinn, who told her: “Do what’s funny to you.” Werewolves Within is just that.

“Me and Josh — I feel like when I talk to him we both feel like we made the movie we want to be watching,” Wolff says. “Or that you know our 16-year-old self would make a big tub of popcorn and sit down and watch.”

Werewolves Within is now in theaters and will be available to rent digitally on July 2.

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