Director: Paul Hyett
Cast: Ed Speleers, Holly Weston, Sean Pertwee
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The four word pitch for Howl is simplicity itself: Werewolves on a train. It’s hard not to imagine that particular meeting was concluded very quickly, with a handshake and smiley faces all around. Thankfully, like its conceptual predecessor Snakes On A Train, Howl makes good on the promise of its premise, delivering thrills, chills and gory effects with a smattering of dark humour.
Set in modern-day Britain, the film opens with train guard Joe (Downton Abbey’s Ed Speleers) reluctantly accepting the late shift on the “Eastborough redeye” from Waterloo. His passengers for the evening include: an aggressive alpha male businessman (Elliot Cowan), an exhausted single mum-slash-businesswoman (Shauna Macdonald), an obnoxious teenager (Rosie Day), a fat, drunken football fan (Calvin Dean), a bespectacled nerd (Amit Shah), an “ASBO kid” (Sam Gittins) and an old couple (Duncan Preston and Ania Marson). His only consolation comes in the form of attractive trolley-pusher Ellen (Weston), on whom Joe has a none-too-subtle crush.
When the train gets stranded in the countryside in the middle of the night, the driver (a cameo-ing Sean Pertwee, in what feels like a deliberate nod to Dog Soldiers) goes to investigate and is promptly eaten alive by a shadowy, growling figure. As the fact that they are surrounded by hungry werewolves finally dawns on the passengers, they realise they will have to band together if they want to survive.
Directed by Paul Hyett (a former effects guru), Howl makes the most of its obviously low budget, keeping the monsters mostly in the shadows for the majority of the film, thereby capitalising on the tension of the characters not knowing what’s out there. Hyett does a good job of maintaining suspense throughout, heightening the atmosphere by having most of the passengers bickering with each other, and making some of them as obnoxious as possible, so that by the time the werewolves attack, you’ve already worked out your wishlist in terms of who dies first.
Speleers acquits himself nicely in the lead role, and it makes a refreshing change to have a main character who isn’t immediately all take-charge and selfless heroism. There’s also strong support from Macdonald, Cowan and Gittins, but Weston is disappointingly under-used as Ellen, despite the film clearly positioning her as a potential love interest.
When the werewolves do finally appear, the effects are pretty decent, although it’s probably a good thing that the camera doesn’t linger on them for too long. The result is a welcome addition to the ‘people trapped in a single location’ subgenre (see also: The Sand), delivering the requisite amount of jump scares and pulling off some effectively gory sequences in the process.