★★ / ★★★★
The British werewolf movie “Howl,” written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, entertains in bits and pieces because it manages to capture the vibe of a dark and stormy night while passengers are stuck in a train that’s surrounded by dense forest. It delivers a few good scares, particularly when the camera remains still as a towering werewolf with glowing eyes approaches its victim and goes for the kill. However, it fails in providing both a satisfying conclusion and one that fits the story it is telling. One gets the impression that the writers have forgotten what the story is actually about outside of the grisly werewolf attacks.
We meet a train guard named Joe (Ed Speleers) who receives news that he did not get promoted to supervisor. Right away this character triggers curiosity: Joe seems to be upset based on his behavior, but the performer’s eyes’ give the impression that the promotion isn’t right for Joe anyway, that Joe is capable of so much more than being a guard. This intrigued me because majority of horror pictures are often one note; certainly contrasting elements, especially in terms of characterization, are not usually encountered less than ten minutes into the story. It shows promise. Perhaps it is not just another werewolf film.
As Joe checks passengers’ tickets, we note of the various personalities. On this level, the work offers little to no surprises, from the obnoxious teenager on her cellphone (Rosie Day), the uptight professional who’s having a bad day (Shauna Macdonald), to the nice elderly couple (Duncan Preston, Ania Marson) who we already know will be in danger once passengers are required to run from the hairy predator.
Other standouts include ladies man Adrian (Elliot Cowan), who is a jerk at times, and Billy (Sam Gittins), the silent tough guy who, like Joe, is underestimated by people like Adrian who seem to have forgotten how it’s like to be young and just starting out. There are three or four characters worth rooting for because we come to have an appreciation of their respective backgrounds and therefore the stakes should they fail to make it through the night. I enjoyed that there are some humor to be had with the more pointed personalities.
Lyncanthrope attacks are violent and gory. Whether characters are running out in the open or stuck in a restroom stall, there is horror to be experienced. I think it is because the approach to the scares is malleable. For instance, when outside the train, low growls and rustling leaves can be heard from a few feet away. It is mostly silent. There is suspense because sequences are quite drawn out. It is uncommon for blood to be front and center. However, when inside the train, the strategy is nearly the opposite. Gore is by the bucketloads. Yelling and screaming pummel the eardrums. Emphasis is on the stature and power of the werewolf: claw marks on metallic surfaces, people are thrown across the room with seeming else, hitting the werewolf’s body with a weapon is a gamble. I felt as though director Paul Hyett is indeed a fan of other werewolf movies, and it is his goal to make a good one.
It is disappointing that “Howl” does not end in a way that makes sense for the material. Perhaps the writers are going for a bleak and haunting ending—but this does not match the underlying message, particularly when looking at our central protagonist. Consider: Joe is a young man who, because of his job, does not get a lot of respect. When getting their tickets checked, half the passengers do not even bother to look him in the eye, let alone thank him. But through the trial of facing the werewolves, it becomes clear that Joe is more than his job. There is promise that he can take on his career of interest and excel at it. Thus, an ending with a hopeful or optimistic tone might have been more appropriate. The ending we are provided is predictable and generic.