Werewolves Within: Josh Ruben Talks Knives Out Similarities, Ubisoft’s Input

Based on the Ubisoft virtual reality game of the same name, horror mystery film Werewolves Within is now available digitally. The whodunnit stars Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Sarah Burns, and more as a series of murders take place in a small town.

“After a proposed pipeline creates divisions within the small town of Beaverfield, and a snowstorm traps its residents together inside the local inn, newly arrived forest ranger Finn (Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Vayntrub) must try to keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community,” reads the official synopsis.

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief spoke with Werewolves Within director Josh Ruben about the whodunnit horror film, creating an Agatha Christie-style mystery, and the talents of Sam Richardson.

Tyler Treese: I wanted to ask you what really attracted you to this project. Did you play the VR game? What really led you to being interested?

Josh Ruben: Well, I was asked if I would be interested in taking a look at the script and pitching on it as a hired gun, really. So the folks at Vanishing Angle were gracious enough to basically submit my stuff to Ubisoft. They took a look at my first film, Scare Me, and said, “yeah, his film’s good. Let’s hear him out.” I read the script and immediately it just inspired me. It made me think of the films I loved growing up everything from Arachnophobia to all things Coen brothers.

What type of input did Ubisoft have creatively? Were they involved in any of the filming process or did they just let you do what you do best?

It kind of let me do what I do best. I’ve only made one film. I did a bunch of videos for College Humor and stuff, so they were certainly I’m sure rightfully cautious from the get-go, but once they realized, “Oh, this director preps, he actually thinks about what he’s doing.” They let me more or less do my thing. It was an amazing process. It was very, very collaborative from the get-go.

The film does a great job of balancing humor and having some scares throughout. Can you talk a bit about your background and how that has helped you and prepared you for this sort of balancing act?

I came up in comedy. I was a horror film fan first. I loved Freddy Krueger and Jason, schlocky sort of 80s practical effects and the like. I loved The Thing growing up, but comedy is where I really cut my teeth. Even before College Humor, I was making videos with my friends, putting them up on the internet before Flash existed. So I think there’s this thing, not to compare myself, but there is this thing I’m kind of realizing with filmmakers who came up in comedy, like Jordan Peele, like even John Krasinski, where we understand how to bend genre. We understand as barometers for certain for genre projects, how far is too far. Not to get caught trying to be funny, and what truly even is scary because we play on that spectrum. So extremely, coming from a comedy background it plays hand in hand with horror, with jump scares, all that stuff pretty well.

Thought the film did such a great job of making everybody seem a little bit suspicious and you plant some seeds of doubt all throughout. It reminded me of the VR game, where you just can’t trust anybody. You never give too many clues away, but once you find the reveal, it was all spelled out but not everybody sees it. Is it difficult giving the audience just enough hints, so they’re curious, but they don’t figure it out?

I definitely had gone into the project thinking everybody has to have their Agatha Christie moment. Everyone has to raise one eyebrow and turn their cheek into a dark shadow. So I think with, with enough prep and conversation, we did a pretty good job of making everyone look quite mysterious, but time will tell. I’m glad you think that way. But Agatha Christie-style films, you know, ones like this, Knives Out, they can be tough because you don’t want to lean too far on any one direction and tip your hat.

Werewolves Within Trailer: Josh Ruben Brings Ubisoft's Horror Game to Life

Sam Richardson is just fantastic in the lead role. Can you speak to his performance? He’s just naturally funny. He has great charisma, so what was he like to work with?

Sam is wonderful to work with. Sam is a comedic actor first and foremost, who came in operating on all cylinders because he’s not only playing to the top of his comedic game, being as funny and sharp as he always is, but he’s also playing vulnerable. He’s playing the emotional stakes for real, and I think that is why folks are largely going to be blown away by his talent. He’s just operating at a hundred percent it’s like comedy and playing the drama. That’s what’s gonna going to drive it home.

I really liked his character too, because it’s not often that a film just has a hero that’s a straight-up good guy. You know, he’s not some brooding person. He doesn’t have a deep, dark past, he’s just a good guy trying to make the world a better place. From a storytelling direction, does that challenge you as a director when dealing with that type of character?

I don’t think so. I think you have to tap into, you know, what the edge is for that type of character. And in this case, it’s like, I’m actually, I’m upset that other people like don’t think being good is good enough. I’m upset that good people don’t or you know, that everybody doesn’t do good things for everybody else. Like can’t we all just get along kind of a thing, and it’s something that I can identify with it. I think both Sam and I heavily identify with those types of personalities as people who are inherently good or taught to be good. Can’t help but dig your fingernails into your knees when other people just go out of the way to push other people’s buttons.

Another part of the film I really liked was that it was kind of in doubt if there even was a werewolf for a long time. There’s a lot of mystery and the tension keeps rising. As a director, what do you like about that sort of ambiguity that you keep throughout?

I just love films that have satisfying payoffs that feel sort of labyrinth in their story. Films like The Invitation, even movies like Chronicle, which to pull an obscure one out. Ones that you think you’re going to have just a good enough kind of a conclusion, maybe I won’t get everything I was expecting, but I end up getting more. I certainly got that with Karyn Kusama’s film. That’s what made me kind of have to throw my hat in the ring on this film, Mishna’s script. There were a lot of twists and turns I didn’t quite expect with what I feel is very satisfying payoff. So hopefully we made another one of those types of films that people kind of think like, oh man, I got everything the title suggested.

With so much of a comedy background for yourself, and obviously Sam’s background, was there a lot of improv, and were there a lot of deleted scenes at the end of the day?

There probably are a good amount of deleted scenes, but we didn’t have that much time to shoot. So, while there were certainly actors [that can improvise], and I encouraged folks to improvise, but we didn’t have a whole lot of time to get much more than the script itself. So I would always encourage play whenever we could. That’s super important, but it’s a big cast and we had only so much time and only so much money. But as a director with a cast like this with Sam and Harvey [Guillén], and Rebecca Henderson, et cetera. George Basil, and Sarah [Burns], all of them. You have to give them room to do their thing, and then inevitably, you’re going to take those idiosyncratic hysterical nuances and roll them into the cut. Luckily we had a good amount, but it’s never as much as I think anybody wants.

There’s always been a sort of stigma against video game films. I felt like this is a really good example of that they can be true to the essence of the source material, sort of do its own thing and turn out really well. With that stigma kind of being out there, were there any worries going on to this project, or were you just so impressed by the script that it kinda went away?

The script eviscerated any concerns I had from the get-go because yeah, video game movies don’t have a great rep. I was expecting Doom with The Rock, but I got an Amblin-y Fargo, what can I say? I didn’t expect when I opened the script that it would basically every flavor of everything I ever wanted to do in love and genre film. So yeah, satisfaction guaranteed.