I’ve seen the horror-comedy “Werewolves Within” three times, and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s so much fun.
The primary reason: Milana Vayntrub.
Actress-comedian-director Vayntrub is probably best known for her work in AT&T commercials. Her sweet-natured humor and charm as customer service worker Lily Adams make the ads as appealing as just about anything you’re likely to see on TV.
Now she has a starring role in director Josh Ruben’s “Werewolves Within” (R, 97 minutes), and she delivers a knockout comic performance. (The movie opens June 25 in theaters in Brookline, Cambridge and Fall River, and will be available for rent online and on cable starting July 2.)
Vayntrub plays Cecily Moore, a postal worker in the small town of Beaverfield, Vermont. A new forest ranger, Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson of HBO’s “Veep”), arrives in town, and Cecily becomes his guide, introducing him to the various nutcase inhabitants.
The residents are clashing over a proposed gas pipeline; it’s the usual conflict between cash and other economic incentives vs. the negative effects on the natural environment.
Ah, but there’s another problem: There might be a werewolf on the loose. And it might be one of the townsfolk. To make matters worse, there’s a snowstorm. Everyone is stuck in Beaverfield, and things are starting to get awfully bloody.
The laughs start before the story begins with a quote from … well, I won’t say. That’s part of the joke. It made me guffaw.
It sets you up for an often uproarious, smart film that blends elements of “Northern Exposure,” “Knives Out,” “The Thing” and, of course, “The Wolf Man.” Richardson and Vayntrub head a large ensemble cast that includes Michaela Watkins, Glenn Fleshler and Cheyenne Jackson, and the script by Mishna Wolff (oh wow, just caught that) allows all involved to have their moments to crack us up.
A typical bit comes when Trish (Watkins), who has two obsessions, her little dog Cha-Chi and crafts, approaches Finn and Cecily on the street.
Finn: Who’s that?
Cecily: Stephen King’s own Trish.
Trish: What? What did you say?
Cecily: Beaverfield’s Queen Trish.
Though the whole cast is excellent, Watkins is one of the standouts as the often-hysterical Trish, who only needs to whine about Cha-Chi for the umpteenth time to deliver a comic punch. Richardson, meanwhile, provides an offbeat protagonist as the meek Finn, who’s introduced to us as he drives into town while listening to a motivational CD that encourages him to build his confidence by chanting, “Balls … balls … balls.”
Some of the funniest lines seem improvised. A group of the characters will, say, be in the midst of an argument when someone will slip in an understated, but hilarious aside.
Along with the nonstop humor, “Werewolves Within” manages to deal with several themes, some related to the film’s title. Notions of everything from community to “niceness” are questioned. Political correctness and our society’s obsession with guns are lampooned. Greed, vicious divisiveness and toxic masculinity are on full display. Self-deceit is considered.
But for all the film has going for it, and it’s a lot, Vayntrub lifts it to another level. She creates a layered, engaging character in Cecily, who’s a bit goofy but intelligent, endearing but with a sarcastic edge.
When, for instance, Finn tells Cecily that maybe he’s lost his girlfriend because he was “too available,” Cecily responds: “Right. Because women like men who aren’t … there.”
It’s a clever line made great thanks to Vayntrub’s perfect delivery. And she does this again and again. Let’s hope she continues to find material — like “Werewolves Within” — that is worthy of her. ***½
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.