Thursday, October 29, 2015

Howl (2015)

Not that Howl, it’s the October-fit one.

British train guard Joe (Ed Speleers) does not have a very good day. For one, he’s a train guard; then there’s the fact he’s just learned he hasn’t got the promotion to supervisor role he applied for. The actual new supervisor is a little prick who’ll lord it over him forever, and already starts with giving him a double shift - which means night train duty. Last but not least, Ellen (Holly Weston), the woman on food trolley services (I’m sure there’s a proper term for that on British rails, but I’ll be damned if I can find it) he’s got a crush on doesn’t seem to reciprocate.

Things actually go downhill from there, for right in the middle of Thornton Forest, the train comes to a halt. When Joe and Ellen try to find out what’s going on, they find the driver (Sean Pertwee saying hi for a few minutes) missing. The audience knows he’s been eaten by a werewolf while examining what exactly he just crashed into.

Not surprisingly, nobody else on board knows how to drive a train. Help won’t be coming too soon, either, for there is – of course – no cell reception, and the very weak connection to the train emergency services can only promise help in about four hours, and then falls into the big black hole of things whose existence the film will just ignore.

Four hours is much too long for the passengers, especially banker asshole Adrian (Elliot Cowan), so soon, everybody trudges through the dark woods in the direction of the next station. For a short while, that is, because soon the werewolf attacks, and the travellers will just have to barricade themselves in the train. It’s going to be a long night.

Given this time of year always makes me even more hungry for all things containing monsters than is my usual state of mind, and that I’ve a bit of a thing for stories set on trains, Paul Hyett’s werewolves on a train movie Howl has its work really cut out for it when it comes to this viewer. The film doesn’t disappoint me either, seeing as it features its monster early and often, doesn’t balk from killing off more sympathetic cast members comparatively early, and does make good use of its train.

There are, of course, all the typical elements of your siege movie, too, with barely avoided ingresses of the monster, panicked fights in confined spaces, people (well, bankers) being the worst monsters of them all, other people cracking up in various appropriate ways as portrayed by a bunch of capable and sympathetic actors, while others find their inner strength in adversity. It’s not very original, to say the least, but the film’s script goes through these standards with verve and conviction, adds elements and character traits that situate the proceedings very concretely on the British Isles in the 2010s (local flavour is always important), and does very clearly understand the structure it uses well enough to know which parts it needs to change for the situation at hand and which ones to keep. That last one might sound like a curious element to praise but I’ve seen a lot of movies in my time that shoot themselves in the foot (camera?) by missing out on the fact that certain things that work in a sheriff’s office don’t work so well on a space station, for example.

The werewolves are in fine shape too, sharing a basic form but showing individuality as well as expressiveness, and – once we get to that part of the film – are really fine (and rather fun) caricatures of the people they once were, adding monsters(!) to the generally fine impression this werewolf train siege epic made on me.

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