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Part of me wants to like Paul Hyett's Howl, this month's direct-to-video werewolf thriller. The Blu-ray packaging proudly informs the consumer that Howl is "from the award-winning SFX creator of The Descent." Anyone looking for a film on that level should seek out Neil Marshall. This movie is basically werewolves on a train, and is set on a commuter traveling through the English countryside. A diverse group of passengers and crew is trapped aboard the stricken train after it runs over something on the track. Tempers flair and passengers die at the hands of hairy beasts. A few decent performances and some bloody effects do not a good movie make, and Howl is not worth seeking out.
Ticket collector Joe (Ed Speelers) rushes through the station to meet the already delayed train. Once aboard, he awkwardly propositions attractive co-worker Ellen (Holly Weston), who kindly rebukes his advances. Traveler Kate (Shauna Macdonald) is the head bitch in charge on this route, immediately chastising Joe and Ellen for the tardy departure. Also aboard are elderly couple Ged (Duncan Preston) and Jenny (Ania Marson), teenage airhead Nina (Rosie Day), arrogant businessman Adrian (Elliot Cowan), student Billy (Sam Gittins), athlete Paul (Calvin Dean) and polite Indian man Matthew (Amit Shah). The curious driver (Sean Pertwee) is the first to die, which leaves the rest of the passengers without an escort to help them escape from the creatures outside.
The characters are initially divided, and try to escape by their own means. This quickly proves futile, and the meek eventually band together with the tough guys. Kate stops being a grouch, but Adrian continues his downward, misogynistic spiral. Hyett hangs a lot on the cast's shoulders, as he shows his villains sparingly. Although I enjoyed some of the characters (and enjoyed to hate others), these people are not interesting enough as a whole to support an entire film. I longed for the moment when one of the passengers would stand too close to a window and get impaled by something.
The production design is decent, and I enjoyed the stranded-in-fog atmosphere. Hyett works his limited budget, and there are a couple of decent effects and transformations in the latter half of the film. The movie's werewolf lore will be familiar to horror fans, and Howl fails to bring anything new to the table. This British production feels like a direct-to-video effort, which is what it got in the United States. This is not a terrible early effort from Hyett, but I never engaged with the characters or story enough to recommend Howl. The film ticks off a few bloody boxes on its horror checklist, but mostly treads water.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is largely without defect. This is a dark, bleak-looking film, but there are a couple of splashes of bloody color. Fine-object detail and texture are decent, and I noticed no issues with noise reduction. Most shots are within the close confines of the train, which does not allow for much deep-focus detail. The werewolves' features are resolved and clear, and black crush is usually not a problem. There is definitely some banding in outdoor scenes.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix is strong, with immersive environmental and action effects, like rain, bloody bites and werewolf fighting. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and music is nicely resolved and layered. Werewolf howls reverberate around the sound field, and the subwoofer supports the carnage. An English 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
You get a couple of decent making-of featurettes: The Werewolves (6:10/HD); The Humans (6:18/HD); The Train (5:36/HD); The Sound (5:31/HD); and The Grade (4:08/HD). Things conclude with the film's Trailer (2:11/HD).
One of the SFX guys from Neil Marshall's The Descent directs this werewolves-on-a-train thriller. There are a couple of nice effects and some bloody wolf vs. human action, but the film hangs its hat on a group of mostly uninteresting characters that get stuck on a train in the English countryside. Skip It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.