Werewolves Within


Ranger Finn doesn’t axe for much.

(2021) Horror Comedy (IFC) Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, Wayne Duvall, Harvey Guillén, Rebecca Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Glenn Fleshler, Patrick M. Walsh Jr., Anni Krueger. Directed by Josh Ruben

 

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that can make for an enjoyable movie. A group of people, trapped by a snowstorm, with a remorseless killer among them. Who’s going to survive? And which one is the killer? And is that killer a werewolf?

The town of Beaverfield, Vermont is known for maple syrup, and little else. Forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Richardson) has been sent there to take over the job for the local national forest, and believe me, it’s no promotion. He is naïve to an almost epic degree, not realizing that his girlfriend Charlotte (Krueger) has dumped him He is, however, fortunate enough to meet the town postal worker, Cecily (Vayntrub) early on. She knows all the secrets of the quirky townspeople; the genial innkeeper Jeanine (Curtin) whose husband has apparently run off with a waitress, which has left her mumbling to herself; the power tech couple Devon (Jackson) and Joaquim (Guillén) who have opened up a yoga studio in a town that is disinterested in it; the conservatives Pete (Chernus) and Trisha (Watkins); gas station-owning rednecks Marcus (Basil) and Sarah (Burns); reclusive ecologist Dr. Ellis (Henderson) who is opposing the building of a natural gas pipe line by Sam Parker (Duvall) which has divided the town into opposing camps, and then there’s the trapper Emerson (Fleshler) who has a sign “Trespass and Die” on his property which is sincerely meant. He basically hates anything walking on two legs and a lot of things on four legs. Don’t get me started on things on more legs than that.

When a vicious snowstorm hits effectively sealing off the town from any outside help, all of the generators are sabotaged with what appear to be massive claw marks left behind, although a diesel-stained knife may have been used in the destruction. When townspeople start turning up murdered (including Jeanine’s missing husband), Dr. Ellis comes up with a startling declaration – the culprit is a werewolf.

The movie’s cast is probably not well-known but they do sterling work. Best of them is Richardson, a Veep alumnus who reminded me strongly of Saturday Night Live standout Kenan Thompson. Vayntrub, best-known for her long running AT&T commercials as well as a stint on This Is Us, also scores points as the perky postal worker with a touch of Manic Pixie Dream Girl to her DNA.

While you’d never know this was a video game adaptation unless you are conversant with some of the Virtual Reality games available for Oculus Rift, the movie gets points for atmosphere as well. The humor is for the most part pretty on target, although a few bits fall flat. There is some social commentary with the town’s divide along party lines mirroring that of the rest of the country. Cecily’s love for kombucha will likely date the movie a bit though.

The movie has some blood, but isn’t gory enough to make sensitive sorts recoil. All in all, this is one of those horror movies that just about anyone can watch and have a great time, even those who aren’t fond of horror.

While the movie is now playing on a limited release basis, it will be expanding to VOD starting next Friday July 2nd. Check your favorite streaming platform or on-demand provider for prices and availability.

REASONS TO SEE: Richardson reminds me a bit of SNL’s Kenan Thompson. The humor mostly works.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overdoes the quirkiness in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, violence (most of it bloody) and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wayne Duvall, who plays the pipeline developer Sam Parker, is a cousin to actor Robert Duvall.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews; Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Freaks of Nature
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Looking for Eric


Looking for Eric

Steve Evets and Eric Cantona share a Zen moment.

(2009) Family Drama (IFC) Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs, Lucy-Jo Hudson, Cole Williams, Dylan Williams, Matthew McNulty, Laura Ainsworth, Maxton Beesley, Kelly Bowland. Directed by Ken Loach

We all need a little help once in awhile. Sometimes we turn to friends or loved ones, sometimes to a professional. However, when we are being advised by a personal hero, are we just hearing what we want to hear? Or is the advice worthwhile?

Eric Bishop (Evets) is a postal worker in Manchester whose life is falling apart. His stepsons are drifting into thuggery – especially his son Ryan (Kearns) under whose floorboards he finds a drug dealer’s gun – and he regrets walking out on his wife Lily (Bishop) after the birth of his daughter Sam (Hudson), who now has a baby of her own.

He’s 50 and the regrets of a life that he realizes has been messed up beyond all recognition are beginning to sink in. After an impromptu therapy session and the smoking of some stolen weed, Bishop hallucinates his favorite football (what he call soccer – not the American kind) hero Eric Cantona (playing himself) from his beloved Manchester United side popping in to give him advice.

At first Bishop chalks it up to the stress but when Cantona begins to turn up more often he kind of just goes with it. As Ryan’s involvement with the drug dealer begins to escalate into a conflict, Bishop’s friends try to help him out of his jam. However, can anything help him win back his lost love again?

Director Ken Loach is one of England’s best-known and most respected directors. He has a knack for capturing working class Englishmen realistically and naturally. This may be his most mainstream film to date, looking at an ordinary Joe as he reaches the half century mark, full of regrets, stressed out by life and longing for simpler times.

The movie probably would have gotten wider release over here but the language and situation is steadfastly and unapologetically English; most distributors felt (and rightly so) that Americans wouldn’t have the patience for a movie of this nature. I honestly can’t blame them on that score.

However it is a shame – this is the kind of movie that leaves you with a very warm feeling inside. Evets and Cantona have a lovely rapport that infuses the movie with its charm and a certain amount of quirkiness. Cantona seems to have a gentle sense of self-parody, particularly with the image of a cocky, arrogant footballer; he plays trumpet, and he has a little bit of eccentricity as well that is refreshing. Professional athletes are often zealous about maintaining a certain image, so it’s refreshing to see one that is willing to look a little bit out of the box in that regard.

Evets is to my mind a big find here. He plays the embattled postal worker with a certain amount of honesty and grace. His Eric Bishop isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, nor does he have all the answers. He’s made some critical mistakes in his life and doesn’t have a hope of erasing all the ill will he’s generated over the years and yet he’s willing to try and make amends. Better late than never, I say, and watching Evets occasionally stumble through his issues makes him more relatable to my mind.

This is a movie that I don’t think was given much of a chance in the States and while I understand where distributors came from, this is one of those movies that I think deserve to be given a chance. There is always a small segment of American moviegoers who will find a movie that is well-made, even if they don’t always understand the cultural norms behind it. I’m sure if I lived in England and understood the working-class Mancunian culture I’d have had a greater appreciation for Looking for Eric but like the multiple meaning title, there’s plenty to appreciate even if you know nothing about Eric Cantona or the English working class.

WHY RENT THIS: As a slice of life for working class England, this is outstanding.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jargon and accent may be a little difficult for the American audience to understand, as well as some of the football background.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Evets and Cantona are better known for other professions; Cantona as a professional footballer, Evets as a former bassist for The Fall.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD edition, the Blu-Ray has a couple of short films, a music video and a roundtable Q&A with director Ken Loach, star Steve Evets and soccer great Eric Cantona.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.5M on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Accepted