I still maintain that American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps are the holy trinity of modern werewolf movies, and when a new one comes along, I’ve no choice but to judge it according to these standards. Howl, directed by special effects maestro Paul Hyett (you probably know him from The Descent), already had two strikes in my book once I saw the trailer and noticed the CGI transformations and the reusing of plot elements from Dog Soldiers, but turned out to be an unexpectedly fun experience in the end.
Most of the entire film takes place in and around an overnight train from London travelling through a foggy forest. When the train breaks down for unknown reasons, frustrated ticket-collector Joe, played by Ed Speeler from A Lonely Place to Die, has to man up in order to protect the angry group of passengers from whatever dangers lurk outside. His coworker Ellen, played by Holly Weston, joins him and an ensemble cast of late-night travelers desperate to get home and escape whatever creature is stalking them in the dark.
Plotwise, it’s not anything new, but it’s the execution that makes this film stand out. Like any good thriller, a solid introduction to the characters makes you feel sorry for almost every one of them that meets an untimely end, even though many of them at times seem like cookie-cutter archetypes. The dialogue is believable and so are the reactions to the horror around them, but there were a few inconsistencies and leaps of logic regarding how the werewolf “infection” worked. It’s hinted at this might not be a supernatural phenomenae, and though it makes sense that the passengers wouldn’t exactly know what’s going on, I would like to have learned more about the mythology behind the film.
The atmosphere and stylish direction were the highlights of the film, with a subtle soundtrack emphasizing some of the tenser moments. That’s why even the shoddy CGI can be forgiven (It’s mostly used in full-body shots of the werewolves and thankfully sparse), especially considering the great make-up and practical effects. It’s no surprise that Hyett’s team did their best with the prosthetics considering his effects background, but there are a few close-ups on the digitally enhanced wolves that look simply awful.
Howl may be light on plot, but it’s also entirely worth the price of admission if you’re a fan of character-driven thrillers. The payoff may not be as good as the setup, especially considering the brutal and emotional scenes preceding the ending, but it’s still a satisfying experience. The gory parts are fun and frightening but don’t get in the way of the story and the characters are convincing. After watching this movie, you’ll think twice before taking a train on a full moon.