By CAROLYN MAURICETTE
There’s an early episode of 30 Rock where Tracy Jordan tries to maintain his street cred, so he goes through great pains to seem “not normal” (which isn’t that hard for him in the first place) by getting a face tattoo. Conversely, someone who embraces his total normalness is actor and comedian Sam Richardson. He’s the straight man who gets the laughs and the face you remember. He’s boyishly handsome, exudes good nature and the perfect fit for comedy. His show Detroiters, his role on Veep as Richard Splett and his many guest appearances on series and films showcases his excellent comedic timing.
Now, Richardson adds a bit of horror to his repertoire with a starring role in the Ubisoft video game turned feature film WEREWOLVES WITHIN, directed by Josh Ruben (Scare Me) and written by Mishna Wolff. He plays Finn Wheeler, an earnest forest ranger sent to the town of Beaverfield to oversee a potential pipeline project threatening the natural land in the area. While he’s there, a resident is attacked by a mysterious wild beast, and the eccentric townsfolk must come together to figure out what is doing the killing. I had a chance to ask Richardson about his character and the Josh Ruben universe during a roundtable interview hosted by the African American Film Critics Association. Being a genre fan himself and the Black lead and producer in a horror-comedy, he had the ability and wiggle room to contribute to how Finn would move in this world. Black characters in a horror film always have repercussions regarding their survival, and I asked him about his feelings on them serving as a barometer for when things go wrong. “The barometer for when things go wrong as in [when] they die [you think] ‘Oh this is serious!’? Part of that may be as an audience you think that’s not gonna happen because I’m the very first person that you see early on, but who knows?” he reflects. “It was fun to play with that expectation. I was also a producer on this movie, so I had a say in what felt right for Finn and what would be too cliché. Black characters written by white people in movies are always a guess; they always guess, so I felt the freedom to say what I felt he would say or what he would do, and I think that was beneficial to the movie.”
He continues, “[There are] expectations that the audience usually has of a Black character in a horror movie [and] we play against that [because] he’s the focus for most of it, and he’s not just scared and running. He’s addressing, [and] he’s actively trying to get to the bottom of it.” I asked him about the film’s director Josh Ruben and his universe since SCARE ME seems to be an almost meta preamble to WEREWOLVES WITHIN. Richardson asserts that they would be great companion films. “Yeah, I think they are, I think they’re companion pieces in the Josh Ruben-verse, you know, they play off of each other. There’s an energy, like [Stevie Wonder’s] “Hotter than July” meets “Songs in the Key of Life.” Together… it’s interesting to look at them together, but individually they say something different.”
If you’re looking for strong black leads, and you thought of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead, or a more deep cut with Calvin Lockhart in The Beast Must Die, I would say Richardson could be added to the roster. He infuses his signature “nice guy” sauce into Finn’s character, creating a black everyman who defies stereotype and makes you cheer that much more for a soft-spoken forest nerd. WEREWOLVES WITHIN also stars Harvey Guillen, who plays the long-suffering Guillermo of the TV series What We Do in the Shadows. He’s a great addition and rounds out the visible minorities in this film to two. My only issue is that while Richardson follows in the tradition of a single Black lead in horror, it still smacks of tokenism that, in 2021, should be abolished. Two visibly black and brown faces aren’t enough, but if you can get past that, Ruben and Wolff manage to pull off a decent amount of silliness, charm and jump scare screams.
WEREWOLVES WITHIN hits theatres June 25th and will be available on-demand July 2nd.