Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Takashi Shimizu is known as one of the most influential figures in J-horror, and Howling Village serves as a welcome return-to-form for the director. Genuinely eerie and atmospheric, this urban legend-inspired horror flick may be a bit on the conventional side but is effective nevertheless.
The movie follows a psychologist who discovers some dark secrets while investigating her brother’s disappearance at an infamous haunted village. In terms of story, it’s a pretty standard arc of uncovering a horror-tinged conspiracy, but what allows the film to stand out is its basis in real-life Japanese culture.
One of the clear strengths of the movie is its pacing. A found footage-style cold open immediately throws the audience into the myth of the Inunaki Village and the supposedly supernatural circumstances surrounding it. The remainder of the runtime is a chiller with a solid helping of effective jump scares.
The film also benefits from having characters that the audience will genuinely care about. The relationship that the protagonist has with her younger sibling serves as a solid, if somewhat safe, emotional core for the movie, especially as the disappearance element of the storyline is such familiar territory.
Ayaka Miyoshi’s performance in the leading role is very good, largely thanks to the very commanding screen presence that the actress has. The supporting cast is also solid all-around, although Rinka Otani is a particular standout, having one scene that is absolutely terrifying and will stick in the viewer’s mind.
Admittedly, the film could have gone a bit deeper into its themes, but it poses some interesting questions about the relationship we have with our past. Although the commentary on how legends are exaggerated through generations isn’t particularly original, the message about atoning for the sins of our ancestors is much more intriguing.
The movie may not live up to the heights of some of the iconically nightmarish images from his earlier work, but there are definitely some very disturbing scenes. The way in which the film uses its setting to create fear and suspense is consistently very immersive, with some very well-selected locations.
Howling Village may not be an instant classic, but it shows that Takashi Shimizu still very much has a strong grasp of his craft. With plenty of memorable moments, it’s an entertaining and satisfyingly disturbing horror flick.
Howling Village hits theaters on August 13 and VOD on August 17.