Film Review – Howl (2015)

Howl

The myth of the shape-shifting wolf stems chiefly from Native American folklore as depicted in the now incinerated Henry MacRae short film The Werewolf (1918).It was not until 22 years later that the hard and fast rules of werewolf superstition were mapped out when the prolific Curt Siodmak (Bride of the Gorilla) penned The Wolf Man for Universal Pictures.

The full moon fueled fable of the wolf man,shot through with silver bullets and peppered with pentagrams, was constructed outside of classic literature and was instead born of the imagination of a Hollywood script writer. This leaves the legend of the lycanthrope ripe for radical reinterpretation and expansion.

Howl snags this opportunity with both it’s hairy,claw tipped hands and generates easily the best werewolf flick since Dog Soldiers in the process.

Ed Speleers of  Downton Abbey fame furthers his obsession for all things Canis lupus (Wolf Hall ,Beowulf) starring as charming yet chary train guard Joe Griffin.We join him as he pulls an extra shift on the glamorous 23.59pm Alpha Track service to Eastborough moments after slipping on a crucial rung of the promotional ladder.

As he reels off the upcoming stations over the intercom, complete with authentically disaffected monotone drawl, the disillusioned young man has no concept that what actually lies ahead is an unscheduled stop that will leave his moral fiber in tatters.

Can Joe transcend his timid nature and shepherd his flock of terrified commuters away from the clutches of the savage man-beast and into the salvational arms of morning ?

The eclectic rabble aboard the ill fated train are slightly cliched but at the same time there is a depth and modernity on show that elevates them above annoyance and leads to some satisfyingly meaty verbal and physical confrontations.The economically engineered character arcs allow for simmering anger to slowly build before boiling over in the claustrophobic confines of the carriage.

Acting in a lightning fast ensemble piece like this is tough but each cast member retains a carefully regulated balance between levity and lather flavouring the movie with a warm authenticity.It helps of course to have Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby’s well judged and witty script to work from.

Ostler and Huckerby are a pairing previously known for children’s television work and breaking into horror films via the twin worlds of Peter Rabbit and Thomas the Tank Engine is unique if not inspired.It does explain in part however why an acerbic and at times cynical screenplay still manages to carry an undercurrent of playfulness.

As the action hots up a delightfully smart parallel begins to emerge between the struggle for dominance among the menfolk inside the train and the advantage this affords the real Alpha male outside hell bent on feasting upon their testosterone laced corpses.

Typical of the heart shown by Howl there is also time for empathy within the human buffet car lending an aspect of fluidity to the audiences sympathies as well as keeping the narrative fresh.The more they interact the more we begin to genuinely care for the group so when the mayhem and carnage commences it is perilously involving.

The film really is terrific value during the vicious attack scenes with the external feral presence determined to pry our captives from the metal chassis that cocoons them.The barricaded carriage environment is used to crushing effect when the two opposing factions go toe to toe naturally funneling the onslaught into bottlenecks of explosive violence.

A werewolf movie can stand proudly upon it’s lupine legs or fall flat on it’s bristly backside on the strength of creature design alone and Howl is no exception.Boasting an extensive effects department with credentials as formidable as Guardians of the GalaxyMad Max: Fury Road and Game of Thrones it comes as no surprise that the monstrosities on show are sensational.

The fiendish train – jackers look glorious and actually improve under close scrutiny whilst their movements are a deadly mix of bestial speed and muscular intent.Crucially the over all look of the brutes fits perfectly with the back- lore apportioned to them during a brief but evocative exposition scene.

This is the second excursion into the realms of horror by director Paul Hyett and one that see’s him turning his back on the bleak and inimical tone of the grueling Seasoning House.

Instead he favours piquant dialogue, artfully simplistic character development and devotedly crafted set pieces above nihilistic shock tactics.

The result is a riotously entertaining and quintessentially British horror gem.

★★★★1/2
Bradley Hadcroft

Horror | U.K. 2015 | 18 | Film4 Frightfest 2015 | Metrodome  | 16th October 2015 (UK Cinema) 26th October 2015 (UK DVD) | Dir: Paul Hyett | Ed Speleers, Holly Weston, Elliot Cowan, Sean Pertwee, Amit Shah | Buy:DVD

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