Landon Liboiron - Will Kidman
Lindsey Shaw - Eliana Wynter
Ivana Milicevic - Kathryn
Jesse Rath - Sachin
Niels Schnieider - Roland
Frank Schopion - Jack Kidman
Genre - Horror/Werewolves
Running Time - 92 Minutes
It's 2012 and I'm still amazed that a majority of filmmakers still can't make a decent movie centered on werewolves. Sure, True Blood has Alcide. MTV now has their version of Teen Wolf. I think even The Vampire Diaries may have had a werewolf there. And don't get me started on Jacob from TWILIGHT. Still, the fact that vampires, zombies, and even ghosts have a higher success rate than the werewolf is pretty depressing.
It doesn't help that THE HOWLING sequels have contributed to the lousy reputation of celluloid werewolf stories. The first film released in 1981 is still one of the best out there, with a gritty atmosphere, cool transformation, and interesting characters. But it quickly went downhill from there as most of the sequels have been really terrible. I have already reviewed the first film and its first two sequels - THE HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF [which is terrible, but in an entertaining way] and THE HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS [which is just awful in almost every way]. I have gotten requests to review the rest of the sequels [you readers love torturing me], so I figured I might as well review one for "All Horror Month".
Since most of the sequels these days are pretty tough to track down [I think they're all in a trash compactor somewhere], I decided to skip most of the sequels and review the most recent one - 2011's THE HOWLING: REBORN, the eighth sequel in the franchise that stopped a sixteen-year gap between installments [the seventh, and possibly worst, sequel THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING was released in 1995]. And if by REBORN means that THE HOWLING audience wants a 90-minute CW pilot with teen werewolves inspired by the success of TWILIGHT, then maybe the franchise should have stayed in hibernation. That being said, THE HOWLING: REBORN isn't all that terrible and happens to be one of the better sequels in this series, although that isn't saying a whole lot.
The film begins in New York City 18 years in the past. A pregnant woman is stalked and then killed by a werewolf. However, the baby survives the attack.
Now present day, this said baby is now an 18-year-old, soon-to-be, High School graduate Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron). An introvert who keeps quiet, studies, and loves to draw, he believes his life sucks due to being bullied by Roland (Niels Schneider) - who is the boyfriend of Will's affection, Eliana (Lindsey Shaw). For some reason, Eliana starts taking notice of Will more, wishing Will had the guts to admit his feelings for her so they can be together. She makes the first move by inviting him to an underground party, which he accepts.
During this party, he's treated well by a new group of mysterious students who don't seem to have the best of intentions, especially since they drug him. Under the influence, he suspects that he's being chased by a werewolf. However, he also feels that he's undergoing some strange changes. He's a lot stronger and has packed on muscle. He can see without his glasses. And he can now defend himself against Roland in a fight. He also has the guts to admit his feelings to Eliana, which has her excited.
Will, fearing the worst, asks his best friend Sachin (Jesse Rath) about werewolves, since Sachin is a horror geek. Will fills him on lycans, even cutting his own wrists to see if he'll heal as quickly as a werewolf [which he does]. After Will reveals to Eliana who he is, that group of mysterious students and their pack leader (Ivana Milicevic) invite Will to live his life as a wolf and not as a human in a trapped-by-law-and-rules society. To do this, Will has to murder Eliana. When Will refuses and dismisses the pack, Will is in a battle to save his love from evil werewolves.
THE HOWLING: REBORN is supposedly based on the book, The Howling II, by Gary Brandner. From what I've researched, I learned that the only thing the book and film have in common are werewolves. Nothing more. Nothing less. The sequel isn't even related to any of the other films, trying to act as a reboot of sorts, but done in a TWILIGHT manner to attract a younger demographic who believe that horror films involve emo kids yearning for each other's love while good-looking monsters attempt to destroy that. And while it does some things well, THE HOWLING: REBORN suffers from an identity crisis. Does it want to be love story? Or does it want to be a werewolf movie? Is this TWILIGHT? Or is this THE HOWLING? I don't think even the filmmakers know, which is what drags this sequel/reboot down.
- The acting. If there's one thing about THE HOWLING: REBORN that I can be pretty positive about from beginning to end, it's the actors making the most of the material they're given. Sure, it's not great or anything, but I honestly expected worse and it exceeded my expectations. So I consider that a plus in my book.
Terra Nova's Landon Liboiron is pretty good as the lead character, Will. The nerd/emo act was a bit far-fetched [he was a cross between Peter Parker and Harry Potter], but he carried the film as best as he could and I found him likeable in the role. Lindsey Shaw, of Pretty Little Liars, is also very good as Eliana. She had more of a character to play with, as I was never sure until the end if she was playing a good girl or a bad girl. I thought the two had some nice chemistry, which made the love story aspect work on certain levels. Honestly, I found them both more appealing than Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart from TWILIGHT.
The only actor in the film who seemed to be having fun was Ivana Milicevic. Her character is part of multiple storylines, but she plays a bad girl well. She's also pretty sexy too. You can tell she was enjoying herself playing a villain and chewing up the scenery. Jesse Rath was also cool as Sachin. He was the typical "Evil Ed"/"Randy Meeks" character who was self-aware of horror films. But he has some nice bits of dialogue at times and delivered them well as the film's comic relief. No one else really stood out, unless you could the male werewolves showing off their toned pecs and abs. Yep, definitely TWILIGHT. At least the acting was better in this.
- Most of the special effects. I was very surprised by the look of the wolves in this sequel. I was expecting total CGI here, but the wolf costumes are actually done with practical effects! And you know what? They looked pretty damn good! I think these were the best looking wolves in a HOWLING movie next to the original film. Besides the limp tails the costumes were given, I thought the werewolves looked great. Too bad they only appear at the end of the film!
There's not to say there isn't any CGI here. The transformations are completely computer generated, and they only last about three seconds at most. However, there are times where the werewolves look sort of half-man/half-wolf and the effects are pretty bad. But you don't see the wolves much anyway, so it's not all that of an issue. But I did like the costumes for the werewolves. They looked very cool, in my opinion.
- The soundtrack. There is some generic rock music here from bands I don't know [don't listen to much of today's music to save my eardrums from exploding in anger]. But there is a slow version of Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and the awesome "The Killing Moon" by Echo & The Bunnymen. So someone on this production had some good taste. No complaints there.
- The uneven narrative. What drags THE HOWLING: REBORN down to below average territory is the storytelling. Like I mention earlier, this film has no idea what it wants. It's definitely more focused on telling its demographic a teen love story, with the werewolf thing added in to create tension and conflict. It's TWILIGHT, but with werewolves instead of vampires. That being said, I don't have an issue with these two things separately. But edited together, THE HOWLING: REBORN seems lost.
Honestly, the love story aspect is the most interesting part of the narrative. It's cliche. It's ridiculous. But I never rolled my eyes at it, and due to the actors involved, I thought it was decent. Sure, Eliana falling for Will after seeing all of his drawings of her is a bit weird since...I don't know...it seems a bit stalker-ish? But after learning her father had abandoned her and her mom when she was twelve, I guess Eliana saw that as a form of appreciation and admiration. Will treated her like she was special through his drawings, which is more than what her douche boyfriend, Roland, ever did for her. So I can understand her strong feelings towards Will. In the reverse, Eliana is the reason why Will breaks out of his shell and becomes the man he's destined to be. She seduces him into letting his guard down and being free, which is something that has always appealed to him - yet has never happened because his father was afraid of what Will would become [in terms of being a werewolf]. Unlike that ridiculous relationship in TWILIGHT, Will and Eliana are on a see saw that levels once the film is over. They balance each other out. Even when he tries to shun her away to protect her, she fights back and pushes him to make a decision - be with her or kill her. I'm not saying this relationship is Romeo and Juliet, but I bought the love story and I was fine with it - even if it did have some plot holes and head scratching moments.
Then you have the werewolf stuff, with the pack wanting to recruit Will into their group due to their leader having a personal connection to him. We see Will slowly figure out what's going on until he accepts it while trying to warn others about his kind. This portion of the film peeks in every once in a while, until the final act where it really goes down. Unfortunately, since THE HOWLING: REBORN wants to be like TWILIGHT and is more concerned with giving a younger demographic a teen love story that can fawn all over, the stuff with "civilization vs. savage" seems like an afterthought - only there because this film is under THE HOWLING heading. Honestly, I'm sure the name was used just to sucker in fans of the series [well at least the first two films], where they wouldn't realize that this isn't a horror film. It's a teen soap opera with horror elements. Big difference.
THE HOWLING: REBORN also takes things from other films, besides TWILIGHT. When Will realizes he doesn't need his glasses to improve his vision, it's a take from 2002's SPIDER-MAN. Will looks like Harry Potter with the glasses. And there's a homage to the ending of the original HOWLING, where Will transforms in front of an unsuspecting live audience. The Sachin character reminded me of the best friend character in MTV's Teen Wolf. We also get disses to TWILIGHT [making fun of the sparkling] and the remake of THE WOLF MAN [no one wanting to see 40 year old actors turning into werewolves]. Unfortunately, all these references made me want to watch those films rather than finishing this one.
Even the dialogue is mostly pedestrian and generic. The wolf pack, besides the leader, are very one-note. The graduation setting seems to be there just to give the characters something to do. And while I didn't mind the ending too much [it does set up a sequel], I felt it was done a little too late. I also thought the twist was laughable, as the turning of werewolves don't happen that quickly. But maybe these are new rules or something.
Honestly, I felt like there could have been a decent story here if the filmmakers knew what direction they wanted to take the film in. Mixing THE HOWLING films with TWILIGHT influences is fine. But don't turn an entire film into a TWILIGHT clone. It's fine for TWILIGHT. But when you put THE HOWLING title on your film, people are expecting some werewolf action for majority of it - which is the total opposite of what happens here.
- The visual presentation. Now I don't think director Joe Nimziki did a completely horrible job. The film looks polished. There is style here. For example, we see the wolf pack walk in slow motion every time [cliche]. We get werewolf POV, where the film turns black and white with a silver hue over it. When a werewolf attacks, we get some fast motion. The special effects are handled decently. I mean, it's not like Nimziki is a total hack. He does have an eye for filmmaking somewhere. There's potential here.
But I had issues mainly with the cinematography and the editing. As far as how the picture looks, the colors are muted and looks exactly like TWILIGHT. The film is just too clean and just reminded me of that other film. And the editing, especially during the final act, is pretty messy. Werewolves fight, but the edits are so choppy, we can barely make out what's going on. Plus there's some shaky cam as well that annoyed me.
I was half-and-half on Nimziki's direction, but it bugged me more than I liked it. He has serious potential, but it just felt unoriginal and sloppy during the action sequences. Maybe his next project will be better suited for him.
- Rated R? Really?? To my surprise, I learned [after the fact] that THE HOWLING: REBORN was actually given an R rating. Why? I have no idea. There's no blood, even when people get killed. There's no nudity. I barely remember any foul language for the most part. Sure, there's a psuedo-sex scene, but there's nothing shown besides maybe a side boob. Honestly, this could pass for a PG-13 film and none would be the wiser. I guess the R rating was a bit of false advertising to gain a crowd expecting blood and guts. But this was tame as hell. Pretty sad.
THE FINAL HOWL
While still a pretty below average sequel/reboot of one of the worst horror franchises out there, THE HOWLING: REBORN is still one of the better installments. The acting is pretty good, the film does have a bit of style, and I liked the look of the werewolves. But the narrative is uneven and the editing and cinematography isn't all that impressive. Honestly, if I wanted to watch a film trying to be like TWILIGHT, I'd watch TWILIGHT. When I watch a HOWLING film, I'm expecting a certain something. This film suffers from an identity crisis that sinks it from beginning to end. Still, it exceeded my very low expectations. So that's worth a howl, I guess.