What’s it About?
When passengers on a train are attacked by a creature, they must band together in order to survive until morning.
Directed by Paul Hyett
Director Paul Hyett, follows up his critically acclaimed drama, The Seasoning House, with much more bite, in the werewolf thriller, “Howl.” For his 2nd film, Hyett, who has had an illustrious career as a special make up (and prosthetic) artist on such films as Attack The Block, Doomsday and even The Descent, changes up genres and takes a stab at a creature feature. Howl proves to be a decent middle of the road affair and serves up a good enough mash up of scares, gore and properly obscured monster fx. It is indeed a low budget affair and within those typical constraints, Hyett and his cast and crew keep things moving along at a cool clip.
Hyett’s film is actually likeable and you may find yourself forgiving the cliches, the customary tropes and hokey characterizations more than once. The film knows what it is and what it wants to be and doesn’t aspire to any weighty conceits. We are talking about a werewolf movie here, no? Hyett’s movie isn’t trying to outdo more classic films like Dantes’s The Howling or even Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, but it does have one cool thing going for it and that it takes place on a commuter train in England. I also really appreciated Hyett’s take on the werewolves themselves. They are not glamorous or sublime. They are completely ferocious and deadly, and I am sure, thanks to Hyett’s experience as a make up fx artist, made to be feared and loathed.
Howl has a few familiar faces in it, to those with a keen indie movie (and non horror) eye. The beautifully freckled Shauna MacDonald, from The Descent (which Hyett worked on), Holly Weston from The Danish Girl, Ed Speleers from Eragon, Beowulf and Downton Abbey, Sam Gittins from The Prey and Driftwood, as well as Eliot Cowan from the BBC’s Luther. Speleers plays Joe, an unassuming, quiet, nervy and irritable train guard. Having been passed up on a promotion, Joe must take on another shift to watch over a late overnight ride on the train, at the behest of his dick of a superior (who received the promotion meant for Joe). Joe accepts, especially when he finds out that a girl he likes, Ellen (Weston), will be on the train as well. Joe is a nervous and non-confrontational fellow. He doesn’t hold up too well just simply asking for the tickets of the myriad of persons (and personalities) on board the night train. Much of which are just downright rude, ugly and mean spirited.
Hyett gives us the typical who’s who on the night train. All cliched, horror stereotypes.The slick and devilish handsome fellow, a young and loud hipster girl, a nerdy dude, a stiff upper lipped working girl, an overweight boorish kid, an older “pensioner” couple along with a younger kid who is pursuing a career in engineering (who eventually plays a big part in rescuing the hapless passengers). Joe tries his best to buck up to the circumstances aboard the train as he deals with having to interact with them all.
But, the thing is, is that none of these characters are very like-able and we don’t really end up caring a rat’s ass about most of them. None are very relatable and we just end up trying to figure out who gets it first and next. Which I guess isnt a bad thing since it gives Joe a chance to become the one person we gravitate to as things get very bad on the train. Hyett builds maintain-able suspense as he allows the characters to interact as well as establishing that something very dangerous lurks further up the tracks. And dangerous it is.
Joe is put to the test of having to confront the passengers after a huge bump (which almost derails the train) and subsequent power outtage causes the train to stall on the tracks. This unnerves all of the passengers, who by now, we have all been introduced to. The macho guy, sensing Joe’s inability to take charge and calm the passengers, starts to wrestle the confidence away from him by helping and taking a shine to Ellen.
Actor Sean Pertwee, who you will miss if you blink, has a cameo as the train driver in Howl. In my opinion, it’s a wasted effort even for a small cameo, since he is given really nothing to do but step outdoors to investigate what has happened to the train, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the forest and utter some unitellible lines. Oh well, maybe he happened to come across the set one day and Hyett needed a favor. Suffice it to say, after finding a crushed steer, dead and gored under the train, things don’t bode well for him.
Hyett introduces to us a deadly looking beast that, for a low budget outing, looks pretty menacing (what we do see at the time), when rightly lit and exposed. The stalled commuters get even angrier, frenzied, and more worried when Ellen and Joe return with bad news about the Driver (which at first they keep quiet about). Situations get harried quickly when they all decide to take their chances out in the night, to walk along the tracks to the next station. A pretty damn bad idea. They run into the feral wolf – creature outdoors and eventually end up back at the train fighting for their lives.
Howl repsectively provides the viewer with enough monster mayhem to pass a short amount of time, perhaps on an early Saturday afternoon with the curtains drawn. Hyett gives us plenty of character interaction, even though much of the dialog and the backstories (especially between the macho dude and the smart, stiff pretty lady) kind of go nowhere. It all just pretty much acts as filler. There is gore abound, gruesome attacks, commuters being tirned into feral creatures and the occasional jab or poke at stereotypes. Like the overweight guy and the nerdy, bookish fellow. Howl’s one true saving grace and the reason I truly recommend it, is the very believable monsters that Hyett creates for us. They are an interesting hybrid of wolf and man and yes, there are more than one!
The monsters are well rendered as CGI creations as well and Hyett shows restraint when revealing them. The commuters all know their lore and even when the old guy on the train gives us a “monster speech” we still don’t know where they come from and why they are there in the forests going after a train. Have they done this before? Are they seeking revenge? Or are they starting to go after humans, now that they have a taste for us? This and other questions go unapproached but Howl is still goofy creature feature fun and a decent time waster, but not anything I may jump back to see every so often, if at all. The movie is a capable “one and done” British indie monster flick with it’s tongue firmly planted in cheek and that’s not such a terribly bad thing, these days.
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, either though, since Howl has no real terror to speak of (despite some noisy and gory attack scenes) or any sustain-abiltiy by the end, with the make up fx (when the werewolves are seen in daylight). They just don’t hold up as well as what came before it. Do definitely consider Hyett’s film as a rental before a purchase!