When we first meet Joe Griffin (Ed Speleers), the protagonist of the British werewolf film Howl, things aren’t going so hot for him. Not only has he been passed over for a promotion at Alpha Trax, the rail company he works for, but the guy who got the job in his stead is a real jerk who makes him take a double shift and he’s shot down by a co-worker (Holly Weston) when he asks her out. Then, to top things off, the dreaded Eastborough red eye (which they’re both on) suffers a breakdown in the middle of a forest infested with werewolves. Talk about your hairy situations.
Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler were on the ball when they named the company Alpha since much of the drama arises out of who takes the lead when things go pear-shaped and the train’s driver (played ever so briefly by Dog Soldiers vet Sean Pertwee) goes missing. Try as he might to maintain his authority, Joe is swiftly undermined by a entitled first-class passenger (Elliot Cowan) who’s accustomed to taking charge and an uptight businesswoman (Shauna Macdonald). Just about everybody takes a turn putting him in his place, though, including a narcissistic teenager (Rosie Day) and the elderly couple (Duncan Preston and Ania Marson) who share her compartment and have to put up with her inconsiderate behavior.
A funny thing happens, though, as the situation grows more dire and everyone comes around to the realization that the threat they’re facing is supernatural in origin: Joe becomes more confident and decisive, and he even gains some allies (starting with the similarly marginalized Sam Gittins and Amit Shah). That this coincides with director Paul Hyett’s decision to show off his creatures more is surely coincidental. After teasing the viewer with fleeting shots of digitigrade legs and twisted claws, once Hyett does the full reveal he keeps his monsters out in the open, while being mindful that the worst villains in these films are often the ones still standing on human feet.