As excuses for train delays go Howl might offer National Rail a new one; werewolves on the line. Given many of their excuses it would at least be one with a little more creativity than the wrong type of leafs on the line. But does Howl arrive on time or suffer a series of delays to frustrate and annoy?
On the final train out of London conductor Joe (Ed Speleers) is frustrated at missing out on a promotion. The passengers meanwhile are your classic stereotypes of horror clichés; the arrogant businessman (Elliot Cowan), the bookworm (Amit Shah), the obnoxious working mum (Shauna Macdonald), the spoilt teen (Rosie Day), the shifty looking one (Sam Gittins), the elderly couple (Duncan Preston and Ania Marson) and Joe’s colleague Ellen (Holly Weston). So when the train stops, the driver (Sean Pertwee) devoured, it’s a case of in-fighting and lining up the menu for the sharp-toothed beasty outside.
Howl’s biggest issue is its script. Having spent far too long setting up an array of unlikable characters it then spends too long giving us more details on them, some in an attempt to change our minds about them, others to cement our hope they will be eaten like human sushi. It’s hard to understand who we’re really supposed to be rooting for, sure Joe but even he seems a drab lead. The climax seems to suggest that even the writers weren’t exactly sure who they liked as characters seem to be either unceremoniously dispatched or killed in surprisingly violent ways given their otherwise redeeming qualities. One could argue that’s the point; to keep you guessing, a whole survival of the fittest deal.
As the film breaks into its third act things do improve, director Paul Hyett, a former special effects makeup artist, does manage to conjure solid moments. The creature design in particular is a visual treat, all glowing eyes in misty woodlands which create genuine atmosphere and raise the film well beyond its low budget. In fact there’s a moment you think it’s going to turn things around from the otherwise bland first half, but it never does anything inventive enough from a narrative point of view to make it stick in the mind.
At times it looks like Howl might make the full moon but thanks to characters you are never really allowed to invest in the engaging visuals are left to whimper as the sun rises.