A train breaks down in the countryside only a few miles from its departure point. The few passengers on board are getting restless as the train staff attempts to figure out what is going on when all of a sudden, a beat howls outside. The train becomes under siege by a beast who wants to snack on its passengers like canned food. The setting and premise here are simple: People in one location, being attacked, needing to escape. Co-written by Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby, both of whom mostly have children tv show credits, the script works within its limited setting. They build the characters just enough which is to say, most characters are fairly basic, but they work as beast fodder that the viewer care enough about to have a reaction to their demise.
It also means that the last survivors are easy to spot as they are the most developed characters, which is fairly par for the course with horror movies like this one.
This script is brought to the screen by director Paul Hyett who is somewhat new at directing with just one previous credit, The Seasoning House, and one upcoming credit as a director. He is however an experienced special make up effects designer. Here he works the environment to his advantage at times while at others scenes look a bit forced. His backgrounds in special effects, as well as some of his credits in that field, make some of the choices for the beasts’ designs a bit puzzling. Revealing these bit by bit at first works very well, keeping the mystery around the beast on the attack, making it last and build up, but once they are revealed, their look is somewhat of a letdown. What first looks to be a regular, good old werewolf ends up looking like a roided up human with a dew wolf features and a face that is reminiscent of Rawhead Rex and Evil Ed. The practical effects are good, these beasts look well executed, but their design doesn’t seem quite right for what are supposed to be werewolves.
Were these any other kinds of beasts, perhaps even just have remained unknown as to what type, their design would have worked just fine. Sadly, the expectations for werewolves have become quite specific and great designs for them have popped up over the last few decades, which this is not a part of. The beast fodder here is composed of almost a dozen people, the leads of which being Ed Speleers as Joe the ticket checker, Holly Weston as Ellen the train hostess, Shauna Macdonald as Kate the no-non-sense mother heading home, Elliott Cowan as Adrian the douchebaggy businessman, and Sam Gittins as Billy the seemingly random traveler. Gittins does not get as much screen time as the others, but he ends up stealing a few scenes from his more experiences leads most times he’s a part of them. The entire cast does well with what they are given here, giving back different responses to dear and being in danger.
Gittins is the standout to this reviewer as well as Sean Pertwee in a short cameo which, in his case, may be entirely due to the powers of fangirling taking over. His presence is short, but appreciated. On the whole, Howl is a fun supernatural attack film with some issues. It would have worked better had the beasts not been identified as werewolves before going into it. They are not good werewolves but good beasts on a rampage. The cast is good, the characters varied, and so are the attack scenes within the film’s limited settings. The horror side of the story delivers well, the tension being there almost throughout. It’s a film worth seeing while keeping an open mind about the beasts.