Historic erasure is terrifying.
Entire cities and communities can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. With the winners of a battle often controlling the story, it’s shockingly easy for a community to be forgotten. Any marginalized group fears not having their voices heard and simply ceasing to exist. These topics have been explored through horror, most notably in The Twilight Zone episode “Deaths-Head Revisited” and even Japanese films like Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack alluded to these fears in films. Director Takashi Shimizu tacked these fears in the upcoming horror film Howling Village.
Based on the legend of Inunaki Tunnel, the film focuses on Kanae (Ayaka Miyoshi), a psychologist who can see ghosts. After her brother disappears exploring Inunaki Tunnel, she delves into her family’s history and a rumored hidden village in the tunnel to try and find her brother. The story and ideas presented in the film are intriguing, and the film uses its ghosts to reflect the fear of persecution and erasure effectively. It’s a poignant film, only building up the horror as the mystery unravels. Shimizu also touches on themes of family history, a topic he previously explored in his Ju-On series to masterly effect. Here, he uses the theme of family history to ground the grander ideas of erasure and persecution, showing how those ideas can relate to each other in horrific ways. I liked this approach, as grounding those topics with family history made the other ideas presented in the film feel more personal. Anchoring this story is Ayaka Miyoshi gives a compelling performance. She parallels wrestling her powers with her newfound knowledge of her family, and Miyoshi balances fear and agency very well.
Shimizu makes the spirits grand and widespread, at times distressingly overwhelming. While the effects for the ghosts sometimes don’t measure up, the CGI looks pretty artificial; other times, they are creepy, communicating the widespread pain these people experienced. At the same time, the movie isn’t overbearingly depressing with its tone. It’s entertaining with some memorable kills and set pieces, making its ideas more accessible.
At times the film can be a tad disjointed with its narrative and tone. Some subplots don’t blend as well as they could, making the film feel like two other films stitched together, especially in the final act, where the film shifts its tone in a more over-the-top direction. It’s fun and wild but felt out of nowhere. The death scenes are always entertaining but also all over the place tonally. Sometimes they are shockingly disturbing, sometimes out of nowhere mystical, occasionally gory. The filmmakers could have done better solidifying the film’s tone and focus on hitting harder.
Howling Village is a fun horror movie with an interesting story and compelling characters. There was real potential for the film to be scarier by keeping a more consistently disturbing tone. Nevertheless, it still succeeded in drawing on its thematic elements to create memorably frightening moments. I enjoyed navigating the tonal shifts in the film as a horror fan, but that may be challenging to casual viewers.
Howling Village will be available in select theaters August 13, on demand August 17, and on Blu-Ray September 14.