In Josh Ruben’s hilarious and heartwarming horror/comedy, WEREWOLVES WITHIN, 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 (Sam Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) must try to keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings had the pleasure of speaking with Director Josh Ruben where they discussed everything from the pressure of adapting videogames to how Ruben connected with werewolves, and battling the elements for a snow-based film.
Josh!! It’s such a pleasure to be speaking with you today about WEREWOLVES WITHIN! To start things off, I had no idea that this movie was originally based on a UbiSoft video game, so how did this all come to be?
Josh Ruben: I was terrified by the prospect of directing a video game movie or a Ubisoft movie because they don’t necessarily have the best track record, but once I opened Mishna Wolff‘s script, which was developed through Ubisoft’s Women’s Film and Television Fellowship Program, I was like, holy shit, this is reminiscent of Arachnophobia and Fargo, somehow. It just kicked my ass and I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring. I busted my behind on a director’s treatment on a pitch deck for about two weeks [focusing on] here’s why it’s personal to me, here’s who I would get to shoot it, here’s the tone, here’s how I would punch it up. And they hired me and I couldn’t believe it. I remember exactly where I was. I was just about to take a full hit of mushrooms while I was on Governor’s Island at a glamping site for a belated birthday present. So, I’m getting the phone call from Ubisoft like, you got the job, and I was like, oh, well, great. Oh my goodness. Flowers are beautiful, andthey were just like, okay, well, you’re interesting. We will talk to you soon [laughs]. I felt like Zendaya. I felt like I was in HBO’s Euphoria.
Your clearly a fan of werewolves which is something we also saw in your first film, Scare Me. What is it about werewolves that you connect with?
Josh Ruben: They scare the shit out of me. I think Monster Squad was the first time I saw a werewolf and Jon Gries, who played him, you could see how much pain he was in and you can see how tortured he was by this thing and I loved the way they handled the transformation. It was almost Fred Dekker-esque. It really scared me because it felt like the most human, next to vampires; it was like, holy crap, it’s possible. And Silver Bullet really freaked me out because it really felt like what it would really be like if you had to take on a werewolf with your drunk uncle, and that terrified me. I’ve always been scared of them and was certainly intimidated by… I wasn’t so much intimidated by the prospect of making one as I was in wanting to add to the canon and this script is just too good.
One of the best aspects of this film is the chemistry between the entire cast. How did you go about getting this group of actors together?
Josh Ruben: It was quite a hodgepodge experience. It was like a smattering of techniques. I guess you could say. So, first of all, we had Gayle Keller come on board. She is our brilliant casting director and she’s done What We Do in the Shadows and continues to do that, obviously. And so, she was able to offer up someone like Harvey Guillén, who I wasn’t quite familiar with at the time in late 2019. She’d offer up suggestions like him and Glenn Fleshler, but also gave us insight into actors and their personalities and their reputations as well. We always knew we wanted Sam Richardson to come aboard and I was thrilled by the prospect of having Sam play our hero, Finn. While I’m sure Wyatt Russell or Jack Quaid would have been fantastic, let’s give Sam the opportunity to play the authority here. Once Sam came aboard then it was about working a bit with Gayle, but then I also asked actors like George Basil, who I’d known for ages, and Harvey Guillén as well, like, let’s give you some skin in the game here. Who do you want to play your girlfriend? Who do you want to play your husband? Harvey made a suggestion I wouldn’t have thought of before with Cheyenne Jackson, who I love and was so generous. George suggested Sarah Burns, who’s brilliant on Barry. It was a mix of friends and friends of friends and suggestions from the actors, and Gayle Keller doing her thing, and also me just kind of writing like a dream list of folks I wanted to work with like Michael Chernus and Rebecca Henderson. It was just a total dream.
What type of challenges did you face when filming in the winter? Especially considering how much snow we see in the movie.
Josh Ruben: Mostly we didn’t always have consistent snow or snow cover or snowfall. We had to take that up with a starch snow machine or a soap snow machine, which is pretty cool, and digital as well. So, picking that up in post was tricky and expensive. I think one of the smartest things our wardrobe folks did was sprinkle practical snow on wardrobe and people’s hair to make the transition from exteriors into interiors seamless.
I have so many questions I still want to ask but I know our time is wrapping up. That said, I think the title WEREWOLVES WITHIN is brilliant because it’s not just speaking on the subject of werewolves but it’s also an indication of what we harbor on the inside. What do you enjoy about exploring deeper themes through the lens of horror/comedy?
Josh Ruben: I don’t know how to answer that in an elegant way other than I can tell you that as a kid who was chubby and friendless, I really loved watching underdogs take on supernatural entities. Dream Warriors was huge for me, Corey Feldman, and Friday the 13th, you know, those types of characters who were sort of different or marched to the beat of their own drum. If I can continue to do what I do in genre or continue to keep doing what I’m doing and cast people who wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to be in certain roles… I have a responsibility and I’m thrilled by that. I don’t feel burdened by that responsibility. I’m stoked by casting differently-abled folks and BIPOC folks, and expand what we all know and love about the genre, but just not center on anything other than telling good stories.
For more on WEREWOLVES WITHIN, check out our review here. WEREWOLVES WITHIN is now in theaters and will be available on Digital Rental & VOD on July 2, 2021.