Review of ‘Howl’ (2015)

Earlier this year I posted about an upcoming British werewolf movie called Howl (2015) and a little about how it had been received and last week I managed to get a copy from my local library. The film stars Ed Speleers as train guard Joe who ends up in a werewolves-on-a-train situation. His encounter with these creatures is set-up as a journey into manhood which comes after being turned down for promotion and turned down for a date in one evening.

Joe’s night begins with him having to take a shift on the last train out of Waterloo station. The train breaks down in the middle of a forest – which also happens to be a signal dead spot. (I do enjoy watching the myriad of ways in which horror films today have to work around the presence of mobile phones and wifi). The passengers decide that they are going to walk to the next station only to discover that the train’s breakdown was no accident and they have become supper for a local pack of werewolves. It is up to Joe to try and keep everyone alive and unbitten. Cue word play surrounded the word ‘Alpha’ in regards to masculinity and the notion of being leader of the pack.

The premise was good and the opening of the film effectively caught the banality of commuter life. Both the lighting and the sound gave realism to the setting which meant that the characters looked suitably tired and bedraggled. The film conveyed the eeriness which comes with getting the last train of the night and the isolated areas through which many train lines run. There is a certain difficulty in setting werewolf movies in the UK where there are few extensively forested or wild areas. However, by pastiching British place names and playing on the idea that beyond the boundaries of London it’s all wilderness, Howl managed to achieve a suitably authentic space for werewolves. The woods were very Gothic and the film made the action seem as though it was occurring miles away from civilisation.

On board the train were archetypal late-night commuters and the script attempted to play with this characterisation in order to draw out moments of black humour. Unfortunately though this wasn’t always successful and, ironically, the jokes often lacked bite. There were moments where the script became overly cliched without being self-aware which caused some rather lazy stereotyping. The Bad Guy of the piece was a City worker who cheated on his wife and was aggressively invested in his Alpha male persona; he was irredeemably a nasty piece of work but in a boringly obvious way. The ending was a little weak and it appeared that the writers had run out of ideas by this point.

I did appreciate the length of this movie which came in at a very respectable 89 minutes. Though this may sounds as though I am damning with faint praise, it is refreshing to find a film that is not overburdened by an unnecessarily elongated narrative. Since Howl doesn’t do anything overly original with the subject matter of werewolves, its brevity only serves to make it the story arc tight and more effective. This improves the pacing and allows the film to do its job succinctly. Thus, though the movie isn’t as engaging as Dog Soldiers (2002) or as subversive as Ginger Snaps (2000), it is a perfectly enjoyable watch. The addition of the British tone refreshes a standard werewolf movie without deviating too far from the traditional lycanthrope oeuvre.

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