The last few years have seen a sort-of werewolf resurgence in horror. Wolfcop, Howl, and Late Phases, to name just three such titles released during this time, proved that lycan-themed stories could be told in a multitude of different ways, and on a variety of budgets, too. Beast Within (no relation to the similarly-titled 1982 offering), is a low-budget take from Daniel Robbins and Mark Rapaport to add to this growing pile.
We open with young Jack, a boy of about 6-years old, who’s hiding in his room when all hell breaks loose on the other side of the door. Little is seen, but growling monster noises alert us to the fact there’s most likely something very sinister out there, tearing his parents to shreds. Skip forward 12 years and Jack is now eighteen and orphaned, living with his cousin Brandon and moping about the place.
After taking a boys’ trip to a literal Cabin In The Woods, Jack starts experiencing bizarre sleepwalking incidents after which he wakes up, alone and naked, in the wilderness with no recollection of what’s happened. Strapping his buddy’s Go-Pro to his head, Jack tapes himself overnight and discovers that, as the title of the film suggests, there’s a beast within. With his friends now in danger, he must control his powers before the next full moon.
Beast Within (released as Uncaged stateside) treads familiar territory. It’s basically a werewolf origin story, with the addition of some modern technology. The central trio give the flick a Superbad knock-off vibe (Brandon is essentially a tougher, ruder McLovin). There’s the nerdy friend, the obnoxious one who talks about ‘pussy’ constantly and…Jack. In fact, the film’s weakest element is its lead who, in spite of his wolfish tendencies, is a bit dull.
Brandon is the real star of the show here. Matter of fact about his cousin being a werewolf, he provides a mostly funny running commentary that, at the very least, makes Jack slightly more interesting. Less effective is Lothario Turner, who turns from tolerable asshole into complete dick for no discernible reason. Likewise, Gene Jones is wasted in a muted cameo that is worlds away from his powerhouse performance in The Sacrament.
Considering this is a low-budget enterprise, the decision to shoot straight, as opposed to found footage (save for one, rather good interlude), is a brave one that luckily pays dividends. The production values are great, there’s some decent gore (a wish-boning sequence, in particular, is good–although not as strong as that of the recent Bone Tomahawk) and the location is well-established.
The comic book-style interludes–mostly used to mark scene changes–are an inspired choice that give Beast Within an edge above other, similarly-devised fare. They are a bit Tarantino-esque (a la Kill Bill), of course, but the animation itself is crisp, cool and nicely colourful. One almost wishes there was slightly more of them, to elevate the film above being, essentially, a fairly average take on the sub-genre.
Even the transformation sequences are average. The performances are assured, in spite of the often stilted dialogue. But the story doesn’t really go anywhere once it establishes that Jack is a werewolf. Likewise a weird sub-plot, with a local criminal and his pregnant wife, seems superfluous and hastily tacked on.
Beast Within is fine. It’s neither terrible nor magnificent. Neither as fun, or funny, as Wolfcop, nor as tense and exciting as Howl, and nowhere near as moving, well-acted or thoughtfully-conceived as Late Phases. Not life-changing, but not terrible, this low-budget werewolf indie is just passable and diverting enough to occupy 90-minutes of your time. In the end, that’s arguably all it ever really intended to be.
Beast Within is available on DVD from March 14th.
WICKED RATING: [usr 4]
Director(s): Daniel Robbins
Writer(s): Daniel Robbins, Mark Rapaport
Stars: Gene Jones, Ben Getz, Kyle Kirkpatrick, Zach Weiner
Studio/ Production Co: Boulderlight Pictures
Release: February 2, 2016
Length: 91 minutes