FANGORIA can’t give director Josh enough love (Scare me) Ruben Werewolves inside (the magazine’s latest darling cover and podcast) – and rightly so. Earning rave reviews at its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring, the entertaining horror comedy (now in select theaters and on VOD July 2 from IFC) puts a fun twist on both a murder mystery of ‘Agatha Christie and a traditional monster movie.
Werewolves inside – about a colorful group of New Englishmen stranded in an inn with a bloodthirsty lycanthrope – marks Mishna Wolff’s screenwriting debut. Here she recounts what a scream come true her first film turned out to be.
How did this project come to your mind?
I went to Ubisoft for a general meeting with Margaret Boykin, a great executive there and a very creative person. She called my agent and said, ‘Does Mishnah want to apply for this female fraternity thing that we’re doing?’ It was the first year. So there weren’t any Ubisoft women in the movie yet, and they made me such an amazing offer. They opened the safe to their IP. It was truly amazing. And it was super collaborative. They’re just like, “Play games. We’re interested in your take on things. I applied like everyone else. And now you don’t even need an agent to apply; now it’s open to everyone, so if you are female and have a script or script in a drawer, feel free to apply for the ubisoft women’s film & television scholarship which is a paid scholarship. So that was great. And I love video games. To me it was like, ‘Oh, my God! I get paid to play video games. My 12 year old self kept me high-five, I’m doing something so fun.
I really fell in love with this game, Werewolves inside, for many reasons. I started and watched a lot of gameplay and people were arguing like in the game. And there was so much conflict, and I loved it. It was so human to get into this game where people were just yelling at each other for who was the werewolf and who wasn’t and disagreed. And there was just a lot of contention, and the thought of what that might be kept me awake at night.
So, your last name didn’t play a role in your hiring?
I was not hired exactly for Werewolves inside so i can’t say it but i have an affinity with werewolves because of my last name [laughs].
How faithful was your script to the game?
Well, the game doesn’t necessarily have a storytelling. It’s a game of social deduction. But what I took away from the game and felt I truly owed it to him was the feel of being around the campfire and the social inference element of it. And the thing about the game that lent itself so well to the movie is that people don’t make logical decisions about who the werewolf is. If they play with friends, they bring their story with their friends, they bring their resentments, they bring their insecurities. And that’s what I felt lends itself very well to a film. It wasn’t the story of the game itself. It was the experience of playing a game with friends and being able to take your things with them, because one of them is a werewolf. So it’s this unrestrained thing.
You watched a ton of werewolf movies to get ready. Favorites?
I can’t get enough of Albert Finney. Therefore Wolfen was one of the ones I really enjoyed revisiting. He’s so awesome in there too. Of course i watched An American werewolf in London. And what I liked so much about this movie is that it didn’t take itself too seriously. I absolutely didn’t want to make a werewolf movie that takes itself seriously. It should be fun. If you want to put the word “werewolf” in your movie title, this should be a great time.
Was the years 1974 The beast must die one of the werewolf movies you screened? It has a similar premise.
This is absolutely the case. It only came to my attention after I wrote the script, and then it was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that thing I just did’ [laughs]. There are a lot of things like that; I saw Knives Out after I wrote this, and it’s all derived from that kind of Agatha Christie, social deduction games, Sherlock Holmes, all those really funny movies trapped in a mansion-in-England-with-the-gentry -Earth.
While writing the screenplay, did you first find out who the werewolf was, and then work backwards?
Yes. I always start at the end when I write. I always say to myself, “What would be a logical ending for this character?” I started with a lot of things: I started by knowing that I wanted this conflict between the characters. I wanted that scene around the fire that was at the heart of the game, and I felt it had to be at the heart of the film. It makes sense. I wanted a main character who feared conflict, hated conflict, and was really averse to confrontation, because that would be his worst nightmare. I wanted to test his limits of being kind in this world. And then the other thing I started with was who the werewolf was, of course. We have to tell people that there is a werewolf in this movie.
Did you play around with different resolutions while writing?
Like my ABC Index end? I have never done. But I played with different orientation errors throughout the process, so there were different times where I wanted you to think you knew who the werewolf was. I played with different kills. This movie is a lot of fun with “How to Kill People in New England”.
What themes did you want to bring to the material?
I absolutely wanted to explore the divisions within communities and the divisions around ideologies and things that separate us, even when we most need to come together to face real and real dangers. Many of the film’s themes relate to community and what human beings owe each other. Finn is someone who wants to connect people, he wants to create community wherever he goes. So he embodies this theme in the film of being a good neighbor, of bonding and that we are stronger when we are connected rather than divided. Of course, it doesn’t quite turn out the way he hoped.
Was it difficult to balance comedy and horror?
It’s still a lot more alchemy than science, and there was certainly a lot of play with the levels. And that continued after the script left my office with Josh. And through the sound mixing and editing… there are some good jokes on the editing room floor to create tension. Because every time you make a joke or there is a joke, it cuts the tension. Then some of the tense and scary moments are funny, so it’s all a mixture and you always wonder, “Am I writing the movie that I want to watch?” And at the end of the day, Josh realized the movie he wanted to watch. I wrote the movie I wanted to see. The editor edited the film he wanted to watch. So, there are a lot of people out there who love movies and love the features of creatures having a good time.
What did Josh bring to the project?
He brought everything to the project, honestly. I was the designer. There ain’t no Beaverfield, there ain’t no Trish [Michaela Watkins], there is no Wolfson [Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén]. These characters did not exist. So there’s the huge conception period where it’s just like, ‘What if there is this? What if there was this? And all the mechanics of creating that dynamic between the characters and the ending and the plot. But what Josh does when he comes in is he takes it and it becomes a model for a much bigger product, and he’s the one who launches it and does a polish. [on the script] and do some lighting and sound design and put all these great people together who are really going to make it pop. The film is really nothing without a great director.
As the hero of the story, Ranger Finn, Sam Richardson adds an extra level to the film. Would it have been as effective with a white lead?
I do not know. It was always going to be a diverse cast, and there were other actors in mind for other roles. So, it’s really hard to answer this question. It would have been a different movie with a white leash, but there might have been more diversity in the other roles that would have played in some of the themes of the movie as well. But I can’t think of a better actor for this role. And Sam Richardson, just from an actor’s point of view, regardless of race, he’s the perfect guy for the role. But you are right. It adds a level, and it worked for everyone and was thoughtful.
This is your first film as a writer. How would you rate the experience overall?
Working with Ubisoft is just amazing. It was a really creative space and a really free and open space. We make independent films, and it’s super liberating. There aren’t a lot of limits so it was a great experience.
What was it like to see your words and your characters come to life when you visited the set?
God, it was so amazing. You can see these characters and then an actor walks in and they bring so much more to the characters than you ever could have imagined. They bring their own life experience and their little peculiarities. And then you have these eccentric characters that are really eye-catching. It’s amazing to see your words come out of the mouths of great actors.
Are Horror Movies a Good Place for Social Commentary?
Horror movies are the best place for social commentary. It’s a tradition, and part of what we wanted to do is take the kind of really funny 80s-90s creature feel, because it’s a good time in the dark, but then you add some hot topics that really resonate with what people might be dealing with today and really don’t choose a side, they just present it.
How did the Tribeca Film Festival premiere go?
Oh my God. Seeing a movie with an audience is spectacular, and it’s an experience I’ve missed so much over the past year and a half. I didn’t even know I missed it as much as I did. And the fact that this was a movie that I wrote was secondary to just seeing a movie with people, especially a comedy. It’s so much fun to see a comedy with people.
What’s the next step for you?
I have other ideas that I am playing with at the moment. I would love to do more horror and maybe something socially relevant again. I would like to do action stuff. I had wanted to do something with samurai or Hong Kong style martial arts for a long time, maybe with comedy. There are so many things I would love to do in my career as a screenwriter. And I just hope I can reach them all because I have a lot of good times to give people.
Stay tuned for an interview with Werewolves inside FX’s actor Harvey Guillén, stage thief What we do in the shadows, in the coming days !