“Last train. Full moon. All change.”
Director: Paul Hyett
Cast: Ed Speleers, Elliot Cowan, Rosie Day
Synopsis: When passengers on a train are attacked by a creature, they must band together in order to survive until morning.
Can there be any profession more despised amongst movie screenwriters than the successful businessman? Dog catcher, maybe. It’s difficult to think of any other profession whose practitioners are consistently portrayed as money-grubbing, depraved persons of low morals, regardless of genre. There are no dog catchers in Howl, a decent low-budget British horror movie from Paul Hyett, but there is a suitably sleazy businessman called Adrian (Elliot Cowan – Alexander, Narcopolis) whose survival-of-the-fittest philosophy puts him on the wrong side of train guard Joe (Ed Speleers – A Lonely Place to Die) when the broken-down train in which they, and assorted other passengers, are trapped comes under attack from ferocious werewolf-like creatures.
Joe, the hesitant, unlikely hero of the piece is played with hands-in-pockets languidness by Speleers. He’s just been turned down for promotion by his employer, and for a date by tasty trolley-dolly Ellen (Holly Weston) so you can kind of understand him not exactly being at his chirpiest. And the cast of characters he encounters as he checks tickets on the late-night journey doesn’t make his mood any better. There’s a fat slob (Calvin Dean – Tormented) testing the seams of his football shirt (aren’t they always?), a rude teenage girl (Rosie Day) with a phone permanently glued to her ear, a snippy businesswoman (Shauna Macdonald), a surly youth (Sam Gittins), a quiet, bookish man (Amit Shah), a nondescript middle-aged couple (Duncan Preston and Ania Marson), and the aforementioned Adrian, whose survival instincts, it has to be said, are far sharper than those of his travel companions, but whose mercenary nature understandably precludes him from earning anyone’s trust.
To be honest, most of them are an unlikable bunch who few will feel like rooting for when the numbers start thinning out. It’s true that some of them do defy our preconceptions as the story unfolds, and screenwriters Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler (whose other train-related work includes the altogether more warm and fuzzy Thomas the Tank Engine stories) dream up enough deviations from the norm to keep things interesting. The irony of the sleazy, self-preserving businessman being prevented from killing someone by an essentially decent character who will then become a victim of the person he has rescued hints at a wry sense of humour, as does the casting of Sean Pertwee, the star of Dog Soldiers, arguably one of the best werewolf movies of the 21st Century, in the tiny cameo role of the luckless train driver and creatures’ first victim. It’s also refreshing that – apart from one glaring exception – nobody is made to do something uncharacteristically stupid just to generate tension. The monster effects are also better than one would normally expect from such a low-budget movie – thanks, perhaps, to Hyett’s background in make-up and special effects – and although the ending isn’t particularly satisfactory, the ride there is a fairly entertaining one.
(Reviewed 27th October 2015)