Howl – A werewolf film with quite a few things to like
Directed by: Paul Hyett
What if I were to tell you of a werewolf film that was directed by Visual effects master (and pupil of Neil Marshall) turned director Paul Hyett? Sounds good right? Then what if I were to tell you that this werewolf film was written by the minds behind PBS’ “Thomas and Friends”? Yes… THAT “Thomas and Friends”. Well, if you didn’t believe me (and who could blame you) you would be wrong, because “Howl” is exactly that.
Werewolves haven’t received much in the way of a decent movie since Marshall’s 2002 cult classic “Dog Soldiers”. In fact the only other quality lycanthrope flick I can think of, in recent years, was last year’s “When Animals Dream” which was amazing and if you haven’t seen it… do. Well, Mr. Hyett is to the rescue armed with a solid cast, featuring a couple of Marshall vets in Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers) and Shauna Macdonald (The Descent).
Joe (Speelers) is a… well regular Joe, working as an on board guard for the local train station. He is nice to a fault, and constantly ignored or pushed around by his co-workers. When another guard gets promoted to supervisor over Joe, he forces him to work the late shift on a train going from the city to the distant suburbs. Resigned to the fact that he just can’t catch a break, he goes about his duties unaware that this will not be just another shift.
When the train hits something and begins leaking fuel, they are forced to stop and investigate. The driver (Pertwee) never returns, and soon everyone aboard realize that there is something dangerous (and hungry) lurking in the foggy woods that now surround the train. As tensions rise, the passengers start to bicker and fight and show their selfish, survival instinct driven dark sides. For the first time, Joe has to lead and get his passengers to safety. But, safety from what?
While “Howl” is slightly cliche-filled, and it’s characters are all familiar variations on countless other characters from countless other horror films, there is a lot to like about Hyett’s film. For one, the set and creature design are both effective and well-rendered. Hyett certainly puts his talents on display with maybe the most original werewolf design yet put on film. The juxtaposition between the steely inside of the train and the dark, ominous forest surrounding it is perfect and I loved the idea that one is terrifying because it is essentially a tight fitted death trap and the other is terrifying because it is too expansive and unknown. Hyett, Ostler, and Huckerby do a great job at creating a story with many subtle elements to it that all fit into a cohesive product.
The acting is also impressive. Speelers is terrific as the lead, and does a great job going from mousy nice guy to determined hero. Elliot Cowan and Shauna Macdonald also stand out and deliver very strong performances. Rosie Day is also really good as the tough as nails on the outside but scared witless on the inside young woman. Like I said, most if not all of the characters are stereotypical horror film personalities, but the strength of the acting behind them elevates the movie.
Overall, “Howl” is not quite “Dog Soldiers” (although it will be somewhat unfairly compared to it) but it is something that is missed by many. It is a quality werewolf movie. For that, I say well done Mr. Hyett and crew.