Beast Within is an Agatha Christie-esque whodunit that finds itself, during a full moon, morphing into a werewolf caper where party goers celebrating the launch of an online version of the popular real-life ‘werewolf’ party game find themselves confronted with a dead body and a slightly hairier and deadlier problem. But, despite being a relatively fun meta-werewolf film for creature-feature lovers, it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its fun premise.
Anyone who has seen Cry Wolf, or been to any drama class social gathering will be familiar with the Werewolf party game. A group of people are assigned roles in secret, with most of the group assigned as villagers and one or two labelled a ‘werewolf’. The villagers are given an opportunity to discuss who they suspect the werewolf or werewolves are, and they chose one person to ‘lynch’ in the hope they hit one of the lycanthropes. Meanwhile, the werewolves strike at night, and choose one villager to kill off. The aim of the game for the villagers is to expose the werewolves and survive and for the werewolves it’s to kill all the villagers.
It’s a game based on suspicions, manipulations and intuition and is incredibly fun to play, so I can testify that it makes a really good framework for a whodunit mystery, as it itself is a whodunit mystery. One of the great things about Beast Within is that it certainly makes the most out of this framework with its narrative similarities to the structures of the game, and the setting of the movie taking place during the online launch of the popular card game allows the narrative to get a little meta with its game-within-a-game during a game launch story.
In fact the film’s commitment to not only mirroring the game, but also subverting the expectations within it is incredibly thorough. Sometimes the villagers team has a ‘seer’ who is able to look at one person each turn and be told if they are the werewolf, we see this with the blinded character Veronica. Another popular element of more in-depth versions of the game is the addition of lovers, whose goal it is to survive the game together, something else we almost see with leads August (Stephen Morana) and Cheyenne (Holly Deveaux)
Aside from a literal film version of the Werewolf game Beast Within also works in its intriguing whodunit set-up, taking place in an isolated mansion, introducing a varied cast of possible suspects and obvious victims who all have their own drama and their own reasons for possibly committing murder and then creating a murder mystery set-up.
However, the werewolf story kind of supersedes, overwhelms and swallows the murder mystery element of the film, rendering the unique mashing of the two genres kind of moot by removing one of them. This is a shame as I would’ve liked Beast Within to commit to the whodunit aspect a little more and save its reveals for a little later on in the film’s run-time.
I understand why they did this, because they chose to do away with the murder mystery and turn it into a ‘werewolves are killing humans because that’s what werewolves do’ story and incorporate one or two twists in doing so. However the reveal of who the werewolf is (spoilers: It’s Ari Millen’s Remy because of course Millen is a bad guy) and then the second surprise reveal of who the unexpected second werewolf is (spoilers: It’s Colm Feore’s priest Father Roman because of course Feore is a bad guy) aren’t as effective or interesting as, perhaps, the film would’ve liked.
That being said, the werewolf stuff is all pretty fun, with the film using werewolf costumes to provide dramatic irony and wrong-foot audiences into thinking that maybe this isn’t actually a werewolf movie, before proving it is and providing ample amounts of mutilated bodies and gore, the scene of the first victim’s body being strung all over a children’s play-park is particularly gruesome and there are at least two beheadings. The werewolf designs are also pretty good, even if we unfortunately get an offscreen transformation.
I got a specific kick out of Beast Within, both for its mish-mash of genres and for its loving recreation of the werewolf party game, which is one of my favourite games, but I will admit that there are some flaws to this film, the musical score with random hip-hop beats feels a little too modern and is awkward in certain places, the comedic relief doesn’t particularly work and the narrative falls short of doing its ambitious concept justice. However, it’s still a good, watchable and fun unique entry into the werewolf horror genre.