HOWLING VILLAGE is a new Japanese horror movie by the Ju-On: The Grudge director. Ultimately, a flawed movie in terms of storytelling but with efficient (if familiar) J-Horror elements. Read our full Howling Village movie review here!
Takashi Shimizu knows what he’s doing when it comes to horror movies. His 2004 American remake of The Grudge was an excellent film, arguably a more polished version of his original Ju-On: The Grudge.
This leaves me hoping for a Howling Village remake.
(And, truthfully, given the striking similarities in both content and color of the movie posters for The Grudge (2004) and Howling Village, maybe that’s the plan).
A hidden village with a hidden past
Howling Village centers on the village of the same name, one that had mysteriously vanished decades prior. Now, it is but an urban legend. You know, the kind of place that can only be found when you say the right words into a phone that rings at 2 a.m. in a lone phonebooth situated next to a middle-of-nowhere bridge.
The film opens with Yuma (Ryôta Bandô) and Akina (Rinka Ôtani) hoping to find and record Howling Village, unfortunately, cut short upon interaction with shadowy figures in the abandoned hamlet. Upon return to their homes, Akina acts strangely, ultimately committing suicide by jumping from a tower.
However, when Akina’s autopsy indicates that she died of drowning, Yuma’s sister, Kanata (Ayaka Miyoshi), becomes suspicious of the hidden village, especially when finding the tunnel to its alleged location sealed off.
As Kanata begins to piece together the village’s history and her family’s intimate connection with its past, she begins to parse the twisted truths of the urban legend, as well as her true nature.
Cinematic complexities fail to resolve in Howling Village
For many of you familiar with Shimizu’s work (e.g., The Grudge), his style is ever apparent in Howling Village, from ghosts suddenly appearing beneath bedsheets or rigidly and inhumanly ambulating. In these ways, Shimizu’s art shines.
However, while it has been several years since watching The Grudge and Ju-On, I remember feeling confused at times, as if the storyboard-to-production path resulted in lost scenes and details that may have left the viewer perplexed as well.
Sadly, this is Howling Village’s greatest flaw. Despite a well-constructed foundation of lore, tragedy, and terror, Howling Village’s ever-expanding storyline that favors breadth along with its disjointed beginning and unresolved plot points may stun the viewer into states of confusion and underappreciation for what really is an intriguing concept.
Indeed, Howling Village’s scares are of good quality, albeit too rare and too heavily weighted toward the film’s first half. And yet, in its second half, the film comes into its own, when the viewer can not only appreciate Miyoshi’s strong performance but also the origin of the underlying tension enveloping Kanata’s family.
Coupled with beautiful scenery and a comparably strong performance from Masanobu Takashima as Kanata’s father, Howling Village has the bones of a powerful film, even though it sporadically suffers from subpar execution.
Watch Howling Village in theaters, on-demand, and/or on Blu-Ray
Originally debuting in 2019, Howling Village re-premiers in select theaters on August 13, 2021, subsequently available on demand (August 17) and on Blu-Ray (September 14).
In all, Howling Village deserves 3 of 5 stars. Overly complex without enough explanation or backstory, Howling Village was too ambitious for a film that wraps up in 108 minutes.
However, its lycanthropic resolve of the shameful undertakings yet curious genesis of one’s ancestors make for a worthwhile watch.
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writers: Takashi Shimizu, Daisuke Hosaka
Stars: Ayaka Miyoshi, Ryota Bando, Megumi Okina, Renji Ishibashi
After her brother goes missing, Kanade, a young psychologist visits his last known location, an infamous haunted and cursed site known as ‘Howling Village’ to investigate his disappearance.Her investigation reveals that the village’s mysteries are connected to her family and works to uncover her family’s dark history.
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