review by Diablo Joe
In the 1974 Amicus who-done/is-it, “The Beast Must Die,” with Peter Cushing, a multimillionaire invites a group to spend a weekend in his mansion to determine which among them is actually a murderous werewolf. There’s a 30-second break where we go over each possible lycanthropic culprit before what most of us suspected, that it was young Dumbledore all along. “Beast Within,” from directors Chris Green and Steven Morana, follows a similar 10-Little-Indians-style formula, but thankfully spares us the “werewolf break.” Gaming magnate Brian is throwing a press party to unveil the online version of his famed werewolf-themed card game, and it’s a case of what if you threw a party and a werewolf attack broke out.
Is our beast one of Brian’s many ex-lovers? Maybe his rivals? Could it be a member of his staff? The press in attendance? Or is it Brian himself? So many possibilities!
One by one, the numerous characters in “Beast Within” are either picked off in suitable gooey, gory fashion, or pushed further and further to the fore of werewolf potentiality until the reveal of what we kinda suspected anyway. But that’s okay. It’s a decently fun run up until that point, and when we do get our full-blown werewolf (always a nice treat in a film like this), it continues to be pretty fun.
“Beast Within” works best on a few key fronts. Overall, its performances are great. Stalwart actor Art Hindle (“Black Christmas,” “The Brood,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) is suitably smug and suave as game boss playboy Brian– all charm and wandering eyes. As his right-hand man Remy, Ari Millen delivers a mix of Cillian Murphy-by-way of-Jared-Kushner ickiness. He’s wonderfully convincing as a sycophant who would think he could pull off wearing one of those two-tone dress shirts. Bobbie Phillips is fun as Brian’s journalist ex-lover. Even more enjoyable is Marco Timpano’s Stan, one of Brian’s game developers. As our lovers and lead heroes, co-director Morana is solid, if not overly impactful, as game programmer August, while Holly Deveaux (TV’s “The Mist”) is lovely, vibrant, and intelligent as Internet cam sweetheart Cheyenne. The two have nice, pleasant chemistry. Rounding out the cast is the familiar presence of Colm Feore (“House of Cards”) as Father Roman, a man at odds with Brian’s game's werewolf theme.
Even on a low budget, the filmmakers make the most of their effects in some stylishly done moments. There’s a wonderfully wet bit of intestinal nastiness involving the underside of an automobile, a wonderfully gross burn makeup, and, while we’re far from “American Werewolf” level here, the transformation is inventive and exciting in a manner that really works. The final beast is massive and, for the most part, suitably menacing.
Screenwriters Matthew Campagna and Rudy Jahchan keep the dialogue punchy, zingy, and witty. There are some great moments throughout the film, both humor and pathos. When our werewolf is finally revealed, there is an incredible (and meaty) extended monologue that is thrilling, chilling, and quotable. And the writers have endeavored to give each character a story of their own.
But that also becomes part of the problem with “Beast Within.” Too much detail and backstory, provided to far too many minor characters, crowds out our leads. Everyone becomes a red-herring with a history. Similarly, the film establishes too many sub-plots that go nowhere. Brian is being sued over his game's originality, and the werewolf killings are tied to that. Several characters possess a fundamentalist religious element. Neither of these is fully developed. The film can’t decide on a tone. Is it comedic, or is it dramatic? It’s so good with the former that you wish it had gone full-on comedy horror. Instead, it just becomes lighthearted. The scares don’t have enough to contrast with the rest of the film, and they suffer as a result.
“Beast Within” is enjoyable, if, in the end, not overly memorable. A twist on the werewolf genre that’s watchable, especially for its high points, but hardly a must-see. If the filmmakers had worked to edit themselves a bit, they could have potentially made a sweet low-budget entry into that rarified werewolf-comedy sub-genre.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Beast Within” 3 out of 5 imps
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