06th Oct2015

Grimmfest 2015: ‘Howl’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Ed Speleers, Holly Weston, Elliot Cowan, Amit Shah, Sam Gittins, Shauna Macdonald, Duncan Preston, Ania Marson, Rosie Day, Calvin Dean, Sean Pertwee, Brett Goldstein | Written by Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler | Directed by Paul Hyett

Amit-Shah-howl

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since special effects man Paul Hyett exploded onto the horror landscape with The Seasoning House, a brutal look at the horrors of war that divided audiences with its harrowing depictions of rape, torture and murder. Cut to 2015 and Hyett returns to the directors chair for Howl. A traditional… werewolf movie? And one penned by a writing duo who, until now, have been best known for their work in children’s television, in particular the likes of Thomas & Friends, Tree Fu Tom and Peter Rabbit. It sounds like an odd combination, one that shouldn’t work. But it does.

It works because whilst Howl may not add anything new to the werewolf genre it, like many of the monster movies before it, uses the cliches and tropes of the genre to great effect. And again, like a lot of those that have come before, it has fun, a LOT of fun, whilst it’s doing so…

Passed up for promotion and forced to working an extra shift by his new supervisor, ticket collector Joe is overseeing the last train out of London on a dark and stormy night – the usual collection of passengers on board from the obnoxious teen to the workaholic businesswoman. Suddenly the train screeches to a halt in a forest after hitting something on the tracks, but the investigating driver never returns. Realising an unknown and dangerous threat is lurking in the woods the disparate group of strangers must work together in order to survive a common, feral, enemy.

Werewolves on a train? Sounds like a spoof from The Asylum to me. Thankfully though, director Paul Hyett forgoes any laughs for a sustained level of terror that – for the most part – succeeds where many a previous werewolf movie have failed. It helps that Hyett has a great cast: leading man Ed Speelers is ably supported by the likes of Duncan Preston, Amit Shah (who gets one of the besr scenes in the movie, pictured above) and The Seasoning House actress Rosie Day, reuniting with director Hyett once again. What also works in Howl are the creatures themselves. Kept in the darkness, often off-screen, with only a glimpse of a claw or shadowy outline, the monsters of this movie are – eventually – rendered in super practical effects, triple-jointed legs and all. And these werewolves are NOT of your typical monster movie variety… Instead Howl aims for an odd combination of human and wolf visages, making these creatures even more otherworldy.

Howl is not with its issues though. The location of the train is wasted, there’s no air of claustrophobia to proceedings and the cast of characters are much too flippant about jumping on and off the train even when they know there be monster out there! Then there are the extraneous characters, thrown in to do nothing more than act like idiots and get eaten. Or – as in the case of the douchebag, sleazy businessman (played by Elliot Cowman) – merely figures of hate, someone the audience can cheer along to as he gets his comeuppance at the hands (well, claws) of the films frightening feral folk.

Putting the fun and fear back into the werewolf flick, Howl is a wonderful, exhilarating new entry into a long-standing and somewhat tired genre. Having already screened at Frightfest and Grimmfest, the film hits UK cinemas on October 16th and DVD on October 26th.

**** 4/5

 

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