Everyone who takes the late trains in London has the awful thought when it randomly stops that something sinister might be happening. Considering that trains in London sometimes can’t run if there are leaves on the line, it’s a pretty common occurrence and also one that poses more fear than danger. But what if…?
What if you were a downtrodden train guard who had a secret crush on his colleague, and you were roped into taking on a shift on a late train out of Waterloo with a bunch of grumpy characters, when the train suddenly stops in the middle of a dark forest and the driver goes missing? That’s the premise of British horror film Howl. And although it sounds good on paper, it doesn’t really work on screen.
It’s not that the idea isn’t great. I love the idea that werewolves might attack a train, and the passengers inside might have to fight for survival. It’s that the everyone is a one-dimensional stereotype. It’s really awkward, actually.
The train guard is a stereotype of British awkwardness, the girl he likes is pretty and sells sandwiches (all the women in this film are highly traditional), the old couple are passive aggressive, the career woman is aggressive and awful, and the wealthy guy is the first one to suggest ditching the weakest members. The teen is always on her phone. There’s a guy who likes football. And there’s the working class young buck who can’t catch a break, but saves everyone’s lives.
Sadly, it’s not just that they’re cookie-cutter characters, there’s also the problem that none of them are very nice. Especially on our first introduction to them, when they treat the train guard like a servant. The train guard himself is the kind of guy who never stands up for himself or goes after what he wants, and therefore his obvious character development is to become strong and get the girl. But it’s clear that he only likes the girl for the way she looks, since there is nothing at any point to suggest that she has a character inside her or that he knows who that inner character is.
So far, so waiting for them all to die. I was firmly on the side of the werewolves from three minutes into the film. And that part is the best aspect of the film. Werewolves in cinema are often quite awkward creatures, and therefore not very scary. But the design team went all out to make wolfmen who were terrifying, huge and monstrous.
I think if you like films about werewolves, then this will please you, but otherwise it’s dull fare.
EXTRAS: Sounds (5.16) all about the sound design, from the music to the creatures howl. The Grade (3.56)) introduces us to the colourist, who gives insight into the films dark look. The Humans (6) looks into character, and the films focus on the human ensemble cast. The Train (5.21) the writer, actors, director and producer talk about the location of the film, and what problems they had with filming. The Werewolves (5.54) is all about the creatures, with the writers, director and actors talking about the creatures, as well as the choice of the monsters look.