Video game movies don’t have the best track record. Although recent releases like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat have found favor with some audiences, these films are usually hit-or-miss. The process of adapting a video game franchise or story seems like a tricky one, given the amount that have been released and how very few have found both critical and commercial success. However, that can all change with the upcoming horror flick, Werewolves Within.
Directed by Josh Ruben (who recently made his directorial debut with Scare Me), Werewolves Within seems to have tapped into a different outlook when adapting a property that was, at first, a video game. Premiering in June at the Tribeca Film Festival, Werewolves Within has the makings of a video game adaptation that actually works: It follows the residents of a local town who are trapped in an inn together during a snowstorm. One of these residents is suspected to be a werewolf, however the main characters don’t know who and must uncover the secret. The specific makings of this film lead to multiple reasons as to why this adaptation can succeed where many others failed.
A Loose Adaptation of a Broad Concept
The Werewolves Within video game, developed by Red Storm Entertainment as a VR game for the PlayStation 4, doesn’t really have a set story or characters that players get invested in. The main purpose of the game is to go along with your friends, sitting around a campfire to figure out who the “Werewolf” is. In other words, it’s a Mafia style format game. (For the uninformed, Mafia-style games involve groups of players against one other player who has more information than them. If anything, it was a sort of Among Us before Among Us was even a thing.) The game isn’t grounded in specific lore or characters; it’s a concept game.
Because of this, Werewolves Within immediately has an advantage over most other video game adaptations. While other video game films are bogged down by lore and previously established character arcs that audiences and fans expect the film to fulfill, this isn’t the case for Werewolves. Rather, it has a fun concept to play with on a blank canvas. This is clearly evident in the film’s trailer, which has already taken liberties with the setting, putting it in the modern era rather than the medieval town in which the game takes place.
These creative liberties aren’t a problem and do not take away from the loose concept of the game. Filmmakers and creatives are able to adapt and play with the concept however they like, as long as they stick to the main theme of what made the game great. Speaking of these themes…
The Horror Genre and Subversion of Comedy
The main concept is a loose one as just discussed, but another key aspect is that this concept is also a central part of many iconic horror movies. Take John Carpenter’s The Thing, for example. Kurt Russell and co., isolated in an Antarctic research station, are under attack from a secret impostor. Long before Werewolves Within, with similarly themed pictures like Alien and They Live, horror films have followed this concept to great success.
So, knowing that horror films in the past have taken this idea and used it effectively, it stands to reason that Werewolves Within could do the same. A whodunnit thriller, this video game adaptation is all-in on the horror genre. However, to make it stand out even more from the films listed previously, it has another genre on its side: Comedy.
The blending of Horror and Comedy in Werewolves Within helps to subvert audience expectations, bring much-needed levity to what is otherwise a frightening concept. Sophomore director Ruben is no stranger to comedy, getting his start in popular YouTube videos from CollegeHumor. Add to that his directorial debut Scare Me, which was a brilliant meta commentary on the horror genre with great comedic beats, and you have a director who understands what the audience expects from horror films with a comedic tone to them.
This addition of comedy not only evokes the spirit of the original game itself, it offers a fresh new perspective on the impostor scenario seen in classic horror that could benefit from some meta commentary on the insanity of it all. This would allow not only for a film with scary moments but levity to lighten the atmosphere of the film, making it stand out from grimmer takes on the genre like the aforementioned The Thing. It can make its own mark on the sub-category of not only video game films but the horror genre as well. Concept, direction, and successful inspirations from the past can only take you so far though. Another key aspect is…
The Comedic Cast
Werewolves Within has a talented cast to carry out the themes and concepts of the video game adaptation. Milana Vayntrub of AT&T fame who has had appearances in other projects such as This Is Us and the canned New Warriors project. Add to that Sam Richardson and veterans like Glenn Fleshler and you have a well-rounded cast suitable to the needs of this comedic yet terrifying film.
Vayntrub and Richardson are the two leads who balance out dramatic sensibilities for the horrific prospect of a werewolf among their group while still being able to bring levity to the project. Richardson is a comedic veteran as well, with his roots being in contemporary comedy that still tackles tougher concepts. His ability to balance between dramatic and comedic is just what Werewolves Within needs.
Film adaptations of video games aren’t just about lore or replicating the game beat for beat. There is an important balance of tone and genre experimentation that is required for films to succeed. Differentiating itself from its video game counterpart while still staying loyal to core concepts might just be what makes Werewolves Within different from other adaptations that have failed. The cast is an integral part of this horror/comedy genre blend that is sure to give audiences a fresh and exciting film.
If more adaptations were to follow the template of Werewolves Within by focusing on the genre and following along with broad concepts, there is still hope yet for adaptations of video games. Add to that having a cast that understands the vision of the adaptation and the tone the film is after, there is real potential for adaptations such as these to get more general audiences into the video games these films are based on. The potential is there, but only time will tell if Werewolves Within and its approach to the genre can change video game films going forward.
Werewolves Within arrives on demand July 2nd, courtesy of IFC Films.
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