A good mystery is like a healthy meal: the main entree with complementary sides that leaves you feeling satisfied when completed. Whether you’re writing a mystery novel, developing a whodunnit board game in the style of Clue!, or making a movie that hinges on piecing together evidence to uncover a supernatural murderer, your story needs more than just an entree to satisfy the palette. Not the least among the ingredients is a fistful of character development mixed well with a few heaping tablespoons of solid internal logic. Unfortunately, the chefs of Beast Within, a new werewolf-driven whodunnit from directors Chris Green and Steven Morana, went a little light on their seasonings.
The basic recipe is there. A game development company is throwing a launch party for the new electronic mobile adaptation of a bestselling board game known as Werewolves Awaken. The original board game is a card-based role-playing contest designed to ferret out who are werewolves. They game segregates players into werewolves—of which there are two—and humans. No one knows which player is what. Shy online game developer August (Morana) uses the launch party as an opportunity to meet online love interest Cheyenne (Holly Deveaux) in-person for the first time. Meanwhile, billionaire original game developer Brian (Art Hindle) and publicist Remy (Ari Millen) fend off criticism of Brian’s womanizing and unethical business practices from angry journalists and bloggers in attendance.
During a question-and-answer session with Brian and Remy, a mysterious priest named Father Roman (Colm Feore) suddenly appears and condemns the party’s attendees. After someone ushers the priest out, Brian manages to convince the crowd that Father Roman’s appearance was a publicity stunt to introduce a new “priest skin” for the mobile game. Not long after, the first victim surfaces of what appears to be a real-life werewolf. The party itself then becomes an adaptation of the board game as August, Cheyenne, Brian, and the other guests attempt to discover the identity of the murderer.
There are some meaty parts of Beast Within into which you can sink your teeth. The first act is particularly strong. The photography is well-done. The actors are believable and deliver their lines with ease. It’s terrific to see Colm Feore on-screen again, however briefly. Fans of Stephen King might remember him as Andre Linoge from the ABC miniseries Storm of the Century. His credits run much longer than that. They include 2011’s Thor and a brief role in The History Channel’s Project Blue Book.
The first act defines the rules of the game, the characters, and our setting for the duration. The film accomplishes this by way of easy-to-digest morsels of character development. Some of it, like the introduction of the Bible-thumping trio of Luke (Mark Andrada), Natasia (Nicole Stamp), and Betty (Katie Boland), is spoon-fed to the viewer. It’s probably better that way. Those three characters in particular seem to have little role in the story beyond becoming werewolf chow.
Therein lies the bitterness on the tongue. Beast Within has a healthy mix of characters. However, the short runtime is too short to make the best use of them as red herrings. It is therefore difficult to care enough to bother picking out the clues when the bodies start hitting the ground. Also, the writers were too coy with the hints. A good whodunnit should provide both clues and red herrings, but they should be somewhat apparent clues and red herrings. Even if viewers do not put together the mystery for themselves, they should feel satisfied when the reveal occurs.
Instead, Beast Within attempts to surreptitiously telegraph its ending in the opening act description of how the game works. We are also provided with some red herrings by way of Brian’s sordid past and some abusive relationships. Still, these do not get explored in any depth. Viewers can easily dismiss them as they watch other events involving the two main characters unfold.
The second and third acts of Beast Within consist of characters making illogical leaps to conclusions not supported by evidence. Third-act scenes in which surviving characters face off abruptly end. Usually, it’s when one character chooses to off another for no reason other than stopping the tension.
When reveals happen, the excitement and satisfaction that should accompany them are not there. Viewers might discover that there are few clues in the film that merit attention. They all occur by way of coy dialogue.
Ultimately, Beast Within serves up an entree that had potential. But like any main dish, it’s the sides that balance everything out. In this case, they were paltry sides at best.