Paul Hyett hit the genre running with his brutal directorial debut The Seasoning House, which was a sick and twisted little cat-and-mouse revenge thriller that dared the audience to look away. Its unflinching brutality and in-your-face narrative was a hell of a way to start a filmography, that’s for sure, and now he’s back with one of the most iconic sub-genres horror has to offer—werewolves. After passengers on a train are attacked by a creature, they must band together in order to survive until morning.
Howl takes place almost entirely on a train, which is a perfectly terrifying setting for a werewolf movie—it’s also a nice change of pace for the genre because it infuses a claustrophobic atmosphere with one of horror’s most iconic monsters. And of course Hyett’s creations are wonderfully creepy, a nasty concoction of man and beast. The males are absolutely massive, hulking monsters (werewolves on steroids, basically), so their presence makes an already enclosed setting feel even smaller.
And while I really dug the look of them, I thought the female werewolves were even better—they were much smaller by comparison, but their lean, almost skeletal-like appearance with long arms and long legs were the stuff of nightmares. The unfortunate thing is that they’re severely underused. It’s a shame, too, because every scene with the female werewolves were phenomenal—seeing them creeping through a night-covered wilderness belonged to some of the film’s strongest visuals. With Hyett’s extensive background in SFX, it’s no surprise that the practical effects totally shine. There is definitely some CGI here and there, but what we see is largely practical and it allows his creations to come to life, so Howl is very much worthy of praise in that regard.
It is, however, all style over substance, overshadowing its wonderful effects and awesome creatures with poor characters and a story that is ultimately predictable and familiar. And it’s a shame because Hyett creates an intriguing world worth exploring and monsters worth hiding from. The story, at times, feels a little too convenient and never hits the highs of its very own monsters, who really make the movie worth watching. Howl is not a bad movie, at all, it’s just not as good as it should be, nor is it as good as Hyett is capable of. There’s plenty of carnage (as expected) and a bunch of people get torn to shreds by some seriously jacked-up werewolves, so there’s at least that.