Main cast: Joe Griffin (Ed Speleers), Holly Weston (Ellen), Shauna Macdonald (Kate), Elliot Cowan (Adrian), Amit Shah (Matthew), Sam Gittins (Billy), Rosie Day (Nina), Calvin Dean (Paul), Duncan Preston (Ged), and Ania Marson (Jenny)
Director: Paul Hyett
Poor Joe Griffin is not having a good day. A train conductor, he first gets the notification that he has been passed over for promotion to supervisor, and the new supervisor puts him in midnight shift the moment he shows up at the Waterloo train station. Furthermore, Joe is apparently so nice that he closes one eye to various misbehaving passengers, so it’s been a while since he fined anyone, and the management is not happy. The tea trolley lady on duty is Ellen, whom Joe has a crush on – she doesn’t seem to reciprocate Joe’s feelings, oh dear. But things really go off the rails – sorry, I have to say that – when the train breaks down in the middle of a forest, and the werewolves come out for supper…
To be honest, this British howler follows quite a number of werewolf movie tropes closely. Of course someone gets bitten and is still allowed to remain among them, of course there is an asshole who is all out for saving his own rear end, everyone else be damned, and so forth. The movie does the right thing by getting rid of some of the more annoying characters first, and then it’s time to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
The werewolves look more like Gollum on steroids, but maybe it’s a design choice, or due to budgetary constraints, I don’t know. But these monsters are not the main source of scares here – it’s the atmosphere that builds up the tension and deliver the chills. Amazingly, this is done with minimal jump scares, so there is something about this movie that feels raw, real, and hence, absolutely terrifying.
Joe is an interesting character in that he is a beta sort of guy who doesn’t get respected by anyone, and he is also way out of his depths here. The rest of the characters are more closely attuned to stereotypes, but even then, there is still enough human elements in them – the way they respond when they are terrified, for example, feel real enough to me to see them as somewhat two-dimensional characters. Even the asshole is not entirely unsympathetic – he is often, in fact, the only smart and sane one of the bunch, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him when everyone else seems to keep doing stupid things again and again.
Oh yes, these characters can be quite dumb. My favorite moments of stupidity are a tie between an idiot deliberately wandering off into the woods just because he hears someone calling for help, even after he knows that the woods are full of werewolves, and another idiot deliberately knocking out someone who is trying to save him from a werewolf, because he can’t bear to see anyone harm the person who has turned into one. On the whole, though, the stupid parade isn’t too bad, at least not to the point of interfering with my enjoyment of this movie.
Howl has all the ingredients of a good horror film: atmosphere, tension, believable emotions, and a refreshing lack of reliance on lazy gimmicks such as jump scares. The gore is not too explicit, although some scenes can be quite deliciously gruesome. And the really annoying characters are killed off early too, so all that is left is one hairy ride from start to finish. I suppose the werewolves could look better, but still, I’m okay with that too.