It’s WEREWOLF WEEK on Horror Bound! Why? Because WHY NOT?! Werewolves never get as much love as Zombies or Vampires and we’re here to bring them more attention. All of this week we’ll be pumping out werewolf themed content. Join us all over social media as we celebrate!
Forget Snakes on Plane, how about wolves on a train!?
For werewolf week I really wanted to do something old and something new(ish). So my wife recommended 2015’s Howl, a UK production, which she had seen recently and thought I might dig as well. So I fired up the Prime Video account and sat down for quite the wild ride, pun totally intended ;) Let’s dive in and see how it went.
I went in with absolutely no research on actors, directors, writers, etc., as I’m usually wont to do, opting instead for a cold watch from the outset. The film opens on our protagonist, Joe, a train conductor (called a “guard” in the UK apparently), who has just gotten notice he was passed over for a supervisor position. We immediately meet the guy who got the job and who is also a major douchebag because he has just assigned Joe a double shift working the Eastborough red eye.
Once on the train, we meet, just briefly for the moment, some of the supporting characters that will be with us on the journey. Sure, they’re mostly tropes: the elderly, polite, married couple, the workaholic single mom, the bratty, annoying millennial, and of course, the testosterone infused, womanizing, alpha male. The script does a good job of establishing all their characteristics using the brief interactions Joe has with each of them while he collects their tickets so we immediately know whom these people are. Once he has done his job, and already dead on his feet from having worked an earlier shift, Joe leans against the glass and catches a few Z’s.
Then Joe awakens, we don’t know how much later, to various smashes and crashes as the train’s power also dies. As Joe checks on the passengers, we get our first and very brief glimpse of the incomparable Sean Pertwee as the train driver, leaving the safety of the engine to check on the possible cause of the debacle. As a Sean Pertwee fan and lifelong viewer of horror films, I knew this did not bode well for our English character actor friend.
Let’s all take a sidebar for a moment here and discuss the clever cameo of Pertwee in this werewolf film. See if you can follow along: The single best werewolf movie of the 21st century, Dog Soldiers, starred Pertwee in the role of a grizzled British Army sergeant who stumbles across a secret special forces unit made up of werewolves while on a training exercise in Scotland. That film was directed by one of my personal favorite English directors, Neil Marshall. He would go on to direct The Descent, then Doomsday, and Centurion. All of which would include in the makeup department, effects artist and designer, Paul Hyett, whom would go on to direct this here film I’m writing about right now.
Which brings us full circle back to Sean Pertwee sticking his head underneath the train to find the tangled remains of a deer. Cue the POV shot rushing towards the doomed Pertwee, whom we will not see again for the remainder of the movie. From here on in, the rest of the film turns into a classic slasher wherein our unlikely victims race to escape the killer, in this case, werewolves, as said monsters pick off each of the remaining characters in various and creative ways.
We get a little character development along the way, mainly in the form of our unlikable passengers doing something redeeming right before they get killed off, a common writing tactic to pull on our heartstrings a bit. But our protagonist, Joe, has the most noticeable arc, going from lowly train guard who was passed up on a promotion because of his lack of leadership and initiative, to single handedly gaining control of the very dire situation set in front of him; proving to us by the end, that he had what it took all along. But pay attention to scene-stealer, Elliot Cowan, who portrays asshole womanizing alpha male, Adrian, whom I mentioned earlier, as his persona seems big as life in every frame of film he encompasses. If you’re familiar with any of his other work, such as Medici in Da Vinci’s Demons, or Abrecan in Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, or most recently as Daron-Vex in Syfy’s Krypton, then you know he plays the asshole douchebag to a tee.
Sure there’s plot holes galore: In the middle of Act 2 we get a little backstory from the elderly husband about a similar train incident that occurred 50 years prior that he suddenly remembers. Which leaves us wondering why this hasn’t happened since. Why don’t the wolves leave the forest for more prevalent prey? Why does one victim take the entire film to turn, when another character turns it what seems like the span of just a few minutes?
But let’s get to what we watch these movies for: the effects. Whenever a former or existing make-up professional gets in the director’s chair, you know its at least going to be a treat for the eyes. There’s a little bit of noticeable CG, but it’s used very sparingly and the low light conditions of the film help to hide any noticeable flaws. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I would even venture to guess there were models used as well, especially in some of the wide exteriors of the train.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the creature design, I’m kind of a werewolf purist, but I like my werewolves with more of a noticeably pronounced snout and plenty of hair all over. I can get behind what Hyett does here in trying to achieve more of humanoid looking werewolf and focusing more on the human characteristics of the monsters than the canine ones, but I wouldn’t go and get any of these designs tattooed or anything. Most of the creature close-ups and victim kills were obviously done practical and I always appreciate that.
All in all, I’m gonna go ahead and give this screening a three out of 5 cadaver fingers, breaking off one finger for a creature design that I personally didn’t like and another for formulaic storytelling and plot holes. But don’t get me wrong; this was an entertaining film that you should especially catch if you’re into werewolf stories, as I am, and because a good werewolf movie comes once in a blue moon (pun totally intended).
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