Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #796
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 5, 2015
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Paul Hyett
Producers: Ed King, Martin Gentles
Screenplay: Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Special Effects: Cesar Alonso, Rachel Coenen
Visual Effects: Rickard Germundsson, Timo Nahri, Gustav Törnroth
Cinematography: Adam Biddle
Score: Paul E. Francis
Editing: Agnieszka Liggett
Studio: Starchild Pictures
Distributors: Metrodome Video Ltd., Pathé
Stars: Ed Speleers, Holly Weston, Shauna Macdonald, Elliot Cowan, Sam Gittins, Amit Shah, Duncan Preston, Ania Marson, Rosie Day, Calvin Dean, Sean Pertwee, Brett Goldstein, Ryan Oliva, Robert Nairne, Ross Mullan
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Laura Mace “A Chosen Soul”
 Paul E. Francis “Howl (Showreel)”
I find riding on trains a thoroughly depressing experience. Nobody smiles which likely has something to do with the fact that they’re either travelling to or returning home from a long day at their mundane jobs, manners are non-existent, fares consistently rising, and lengthy delays par for the course. I live on the rural outskirts of London so generally manage to avoid climbing aboard the iron horse for the most part, but should I be required to venture into the bright lights of the big city, then shuttle is pretty much the only way to go. I’m the guy that sits there with a stupid, dumb grin spread across his face, attempting to break the unbearable tension by way of flatulence or occasional outbursts of giggles, and needless to say, that is a darn sight easier said than done with this joyless crowd.
Paul Hyett’s sophomore feature, Howl, takes place almost entirely on a train and spices up the commute by tossing in a pack of bipedal fare dodgers hell-bent on making the journey even more uncomfortable for a cosmopolitan group of late night travelers. While Hyett is relatively new to the directing game, his expertise in make-up and prosthetics is certainly not to be sniffed at. With a list of credits that includes The Descent, Wilderness, The Cottage, Doomsday, Outpost: Black Sun, The Children and Attack The Block amongst others, you can guarantee that the werewolves in question will look the part. There’s even a cameo for national treasure, Sean Pertwee, and fans of Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers will be thrilled to learn that he does indeed relinquish the word “sausages”.
We board the somewhat less than glamorous 23.59pm Alpha Track service to Eastborough at its very commencement as the last train out of London departs on its lengthy journey into the eye of a typically British storm. After reeling off any upcoming stops via intercom in the customary droning monotone, down and out stub-collector, Joe (Ed Speleers), introduces us to any fellow passengers by way of inspecting their tickets to ride and this novel meet and greet approach sets us up nicely as we head off into the bleak unknown.
Fares comprise bitch Kate (Shauna Macdonald), cunt Adrian (Elliot Cowan), geek Matthew (Amit Shah), chav Billy (Sam Gittens), hormonal teen Nina (Rosie Day), tubby soccer nut Paul (Calvin Dean), old git Ged (Duncan Preston), and his po-faced wife Jenny (Ania Marson), while the subject of Joe’s unrequited love, tea-trolley princess, Ellen (Holly Weston), has also been reluctantly assigned to double shift dead-eye duties.
When the train grinds to an unexpected halt somewhere in the dense English countryside and the driver mysteriously disappears, it isn’t long before the abuse starts flying and poor Joe naturally bears the brunt of it. However, what they’re unaware of at this point, are the pissed off pack of lyncanthropes prowling the shadows outside, preparing to lay siege upon the carriage and whittle down the numbers.
Hyett wastes precious little time in firing up the pistons, while remaining mindful of revealing too much of the threat early on to ensure we remain just as bewildered as the fresh meat travelers as they gripe and panic amongst themselves. Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler’s screenplay is undoubtedly acerbic but also offers little indication that they’re anything other than your bog-standard human buffet.
While our lambs for the slaughtering are pretty much your standard walking cliché and light on redeeming qualities, to be fair, public transport does tend to bring out the worst in folk. This is never more the case than when the moon above glows at full mast and they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere being picked off one-by-one and in manners far less than gracious. They don’t call it the misery line for nothing after all.
Broadly painted they may be, but they’re also a colorful collective and Speelers leads the line decidedly well as the glum guard who cannot seem to glean a solitary ounce of respect. Joe will have to go some to stand any chance whatsoever of getting the girl unless he grows a pair fairly sharpish and we Brits love ourselves a likeable loser so we can but will him on to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (and encroaching savages who jump the turnstiles of course).
Any werewolf movie worth its pedigree chum lives or dies by the hairy howlers it presents its audience, and while Hyett wisely eases us in with silhouettes and brief glimpses, when the time arrives to throw in his hand, the lycanthropic libertines in question are no less approachable than expected given his credentials in special effects work.
They certainly look authentic, standing tall on their lupine legs and covered from head to toe in coarse fur. Interestingly however, for all their excessive muscle mass and bestial speed, they’re somewhat less evolved than your average werewolves, and display a number of human characteristics. For a film evidently made on a modest budget, you’d expect such hybrids to suffer under closer scrutiny, but if anything, they actually benefit from any extreme close-ups.
Adam Biddle’s close quarters photography may feel a little hectic on occasion, but this also helps intensify each subsequent bum rush, and in the rare event of a dismount, the moonlit surrounding moors provide a suitably uninviting extended playground. The pace is also pleasingly brisk and its slender 89 minutes runtime crammed with more than enough ugly incident to make up for any limitations with regards to character development.
I’ve heard it remarked that Howl is the best werewolf flick to emerge since John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and it’s not nearly iconic enough to shoulder that particular burden of expectation. There’s simply not sufficient meat on these bones to fulfill those kind of stomach growls unfortunately. That said, while aware of the story’s reach, Hyett’s considerable field experience allows him to extend this effortlessly, and the result is a thoroughly entertaining romp with no shortage of wit, charm or personality.
Mind the gap and you should be just fine, but be warned, you may wish to pass on that One Day Travelcard come our final destination. That reminds me, I really must see a doctor over these hairy palms. My mother always warned me of the perils of excessive masturbation; in between bouts of howling of the moon and chasing the postman down the garden path that is. One more thing and I’ll get out of your hair. Don’t suppose you know what time the buses stop running do you?
Fine, I’m frightfully sorry I bothered you. Jeez, I didn’t realize personal space was such a bone of contention. Need I point you to the sign above the door that clearly states “Quiet Zone”? For the record, I think Ellen may have some Extra Strong Mints left on her trolley.
Of course, I totally understand. No need to show me your Oyster Card sir, I’ll just go hound this harmless looking bespectacled nerd across the aisle instead. He looks like he couldn’t punch his way through a badger’s womb; I wonder if his mother picked out his tie this morning. Well I guess there’s only one way to find out – Tickets please.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Practical SFX journeyman Hyett actually practices a surprising level of restraint here, although there’s still plenty of grisly injury detail to feast those peepers upon. Moreover, the choice not to opt for CGI for the creatures themselves is an inspired one and the figure they cut against the wonderfully drab interiors is never anything less than steeped in menace. Kudos to the entire crew of Howl for reminding us that you don’t need a stack of cash to knock out an effective werewolf movie.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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