It’s the last shift of a bad day for Joe Griffin (Eragon’s Ed Speleers); he didn’t get the promotion he applied for and to make things worse his colleague who did, David (SuperBob himself, Brett Goldstein) is now his supervisor, condescending, belittling and determined to make Joe suffer. His first action is to force Joe to take an extra shift as conductor on the Alpha Trax red eye, leaving London at 23:59 to be in Eastborough at 1:48 in the morning, the veritable graveyard shift.
Running through the dark and misty countryside under a full moon, the passengers are animals; ill mannered, short tempered, uncooperative and ungrateful. The only saving grace is the presence of on-board catering assistant Ellen (John Carter‘s Holly Weston) for whom he has an unspoken affection.
Taking a moment to close his eyes, the next thing Joe knows is screeching brakes and a dark, near empty train; they have stopped in the middle of nowhere, a rain-soaked forest where there is no mobile reception.
Train driver Tony (Gotham‘s Sean Pertwee) tries to find the cause of the problem while Joe checks on the passengers, who are as accommodating as before, with not one person is concerned about the other passengers, only for their belongings, their iPhone or their laptop, the delay to their journey, the recompense they will be offered.
But when Tony fails to return, vanishing into the darkness, it seems they will have to make the trek back to civilisation on foot, but there is something in the forest watching them, something hungry…
Written by Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler, Paul Hyett and Neil Marshall, director Hyett has contributed special effects and make-up on many of Marshall’s own projects including Dog Soldiers, Doomsday and The Descent, and among the passengers is Shauna Macdonald, also of The Descent.
As one of the leads of Dog Soldiers, Pertwee has dealt with werewolves before, though to be fair, it wasn’t a successful encounter though he lasted longer on that occasion than here in what is unfortunately a one-scene cameo.
While the tension of the waiting game works, the attacks are rather telegraphed and it is frustrating that most of the passengers are selfish idiots, the normal scenario of hoping a favourite character will survive inverted into the fervent wish that the most annoying will die first, an even split between arrogant teen queen bee Nina (Outlander‘s Rosie Day) or drunken, slovenly Paul (Tormented‘s Calvin Dean).
As the elderly couple Jenny and Ged, the experience of Ania Marson and Duncan Preston shines through, and while they, Speelers, Macdonald, Narcopolis‘ Elliot Cowan and Sam Gittins do their best with what they have the material they are given are too obvious, and between the tragic deaths and the inspirational speech, none of them are given much chance to be more than meals in waiting.
For too much of the film, foolishness rules, with not one of the characters knowing the basic tenets of first aid, and repeated calls for them to remain quiet so as not to attract the attention of the beasts, an unhelpful demand as it’s already know they’re inside the immobilised tin can.
Unlike Dog Soldiers which set the standard for British werewolf movies (An American Werewolf in London being decidedly transatlantic), Howl never becomes more than the sum of its parts, some of which are substandard, and it plays out in too predictable a fashion though it manages to rally to an energetic conclusion.
When it comes to the crunch, though, the besieged passengers are surprisingly eager and capable with their makeshift weapons, a refreshing change from the norm in such situations in horror films, and Hyett’s background and experience mean that the actual werewolves are impressive for such a low-budget production.