Whether it’s a closeup of Lon Chaney Jr’s face getting hairier and hairier using lapse-dissolve photography in his various Universal Monster Movies or Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning full body transformation of David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London, the measuring stick for all werewolf films is the transformation scene. A good transformation scene not only adds to the fear of the film but helps sell the idea of a man becoming a monster when the moon. That’s what makes it real for the audience.
The transformation scene in Beast Within, a cheesy, shadowy computer image that’s barely legible on the screen — which could have been the saving grace of the movie — falls far short of the mark. And not having that good transformation only underlines the other faults of the film.
Directed by Chris Green and Steven Morana, Beast Within tries to bring the lycanthropy legend into the digital age by centering the action on the online release of Werewolves Awaken, a monster mystery game where players try to find out who the monster is before they end up his or her next meal. It started as a real-world card game, originated by werewolf enthusiast and generally creepy old rich guy Brian (Art Hindle), but has been retooled as an app by a coding whizz kid named August (Steve Morana). It’s during the big media launch party for the online game that the bodies start piling up, their half-eaten, chunky remains a sure sign that the game is about to become more real than any of the players could ever imagine,
While the people up on the screen may act shocked about the appearance of the monster, the audience already knows about the werewolf because the movie opens with a scene not only showing us the creature but gives away the big secret about the identity of the human under all that hair. That’s right, Beast Within opens with the ending. Maybe not the entire ending, but enough of it to make all the planned surprises that follow fall flat. It’s a strange choice for the three directors to make, as is their subsequent use of voice-overs by August to explain away the various plot points that could have given the film a heightened sense of mystery. The end result is a movie that tells instead of shows, and that takes all the fun out of watching it.
Although the movie stumbles in terms of plot and presentation, there are a few highpoints that make it worth watching, the highest being the performance of Holly Deveaux as Cheyenne, an internet camgirl, a career she explains as ‘taking her clothes off on the internet for money’. Although she and August have been chatting online for a while, their first in-the-flesh meeting is at the launch party and it does not go well. It’s an awkward scene, but Deveaux really adds a spark of defiance to it that lights up the screen in an unexpected, but delightful way. Her presence should be a wake-up call to the rest of the cast to step up to her level or be overshadowed until the final reel, and none of them rise to the challenge. Not the leading man and certainly not the monster.
There is also a cameo appearance by the always entertaining Colm Feore as Father Roman, a pissed-off padre who crashes the launch party to protest a bit too much about the evil that Werewolves Awaken will release upon the world. It’s not a big part, but it’s fun to watch Feore chew the scenery to pieces.
- John Black, Beast Within