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Film Review | Howl

It may not be the genre-revitalising werewolf movie you were hoping for, but Paul Hyett's flawed piece of Brit indie horror packs a fun final half 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
26 October 2015, 8:09am
Haunted woods: Ed Speelers and Holly Weston are forced to keep their passengers safe from a werewolf invasion in this British horror indie
Haunted woods: Ed Speelers and Holly Weston are forced to keep their passengers safe from a werewolf invasion in this British horror indie
“Even the man who is pure in heart, and speaks in prayer by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the winter moon is bright...” So goes that classic incantation from Hollywood werewolf lore, and though the hairy nocturnal beasts may have ceded their front-row seats to other supernatural entities from time to time, they remain key to the horror genre's history.

And in an industry infamously resistant to radical change and suspicous of new ideas, it's hardly a surprise that werewolf movies re-appear every now and then. 

Relative newcomer Paul Hyett is next in line to take on this challenge, and while Howl doesn't quite capitalise on its otherwise tight conceit, it remains a latterly entertaining take on familiar tropes.

It’s a tough night for train guard Joe (Ed Speelers). Not only is his application for a promotion to supervisor rejected: the colleague who took the coveted post is now making him work an extra night shift on top of the one he’s just completed. Biting his tongue and shuffling along to the train along with his fellow colleague – and love interest – Ellen (Holly Weston), he feels pressured to play tough-cop with the customers since his new supervisor is adamant he give out more penalties. 

 

This cultivates something of a frosty mood among the motely assemblage of passengers occupying the late night train, among them harried working mum Kate (Shauna Macdonald), elderly couple Ged (Duncan Preston) and Jenny (Ania Marson), affluent jerk-off and erstwhile alpha male Adrian (Elliot Cowan), bratty teen Nina (Rosie Day), taciturn working class boy Billy (Sam Gittins) and bookish youth Matthew (Amit Shah). 

But when the train stops right in the middle of a remote forest, in-cabin camaraderie becomes the least of the group’s problems. What initially appears to be a simple engineering fault morphs into something far worse – as is made apparent when the driver (Sean Pertwee) goes missing. The fumbling Joe is forced to pull his socks up and take on a leadership role when the source of the incident that has left them stranded turns out to be far more supernatural… and deadlier… than expected. 

There's nothing worse than an ambitious project that stops short of its mark, but is a low-budget, low-expectation film that doesn't quite cut it really all that much better? Perhaps, but Hyett’s foray into the nocturnal world of werewolves appears to have its heart in the right place – i.e., violently dislodged from its source body by a large hairy hand – and some real fun is had as it all plummets towards a hi-octane conclusion. 

Virtually a beginner, Hyett struggles most with maintaining a solid tempo for the piece. The claustrophobic train setting, coupled with the isolation of the surrounding forest and the gradual build up until we actually see the beasts could have made for some great, effective scares all the way through. 

Instead, it's hit and miss, with Hyett botching quite a few of the beats with his faltering approach to the material. Again, it’s probably inexperience that is to blame here – either that or a fast approaching deadline and a slightly groggy film editor. 

In fact, it’s on the final half-hour mark that things really get going, and one can’t help but think that some key choices could have been made to calibrate this better. Nonetheless, this remains a worthy stab (no pun intended) at the genre.

Though, unhappily for Hyett and his team, the werewolf genre has one great set piece to rule them all when it comes to practical effects – An American Werewolf in London – this film’s creatures boast a grimy, rubbery look that’s all the more charming for being a bit imperfect and creaky.

One wonders whether Hyett – who cut his teeth in the makeup department – took on this project for the sole purpose of contributing to the hallowed aura that surrounds anybody working on werewolf-based practical costuming, effects, and prosthetics. 

With the vampire’s luster waning over the pop culture horizon – to emerge again soon, though, I’m sure – perhaps the time of the werewolf is nigh, full moon or not. Howl may not be a perfect take on this staple of the horror genre, but as a piece of rag-tag indie filmmaking, it does its job just fine, most of the time. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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