These issues might be enough to turn audiences off, as they are hard to ignore. But Howl offers viewers quite a few positives that, if one can stick around for all 80 minutes, manages to outweigh the negative. For one, Michele Martin is pretty good as Dulcina. While some line readings come across a bit rushed (probably did not have time for very many takes), it is apparent that she understands this character and the emotional journey she’s undertaking. Her performance gets audiences to empathize with Dulcina and wish to see her grow. It certainly helps that Martin’s chemistry with Scott Hamm is good as well. He’s alluring and dangerous at the same time, so her attraction always makes sense while still leaving viewers unsure if they can trust him for a while. These two are on-screen by themselves often, and having such strong actors helps invest one into the proceedings. For his villainous role, Johnson is threatening and intense, so the stakes feel real.
Next in the pro column is the cinematography. A good portion of Howl is wordless scenes of nightmarish visions Dulcina experiences, and the director does a great job capturing the lead’s mindset through the visuals. Sunset vistas give off a reddish glow, giving hints of supernatural elements. Several skillful edits between a wolf pack hunting and Dulcina’s vivid fantasies beautifully highlight the ideas at play in a visual way. Minus the overlay effects (which are not uncommon), the film looks great.
“…does a great job capturing the lead’s mindset through the visuals.”
Then there’s the themes and message. This element of the film is a bit harder to discuss without spoiling a lot, but Martin conveys them all with an assured hand. The filmmaker looks at mental health, trauma, empowering women, and what it takes to accept one’s true self with sincerity, honestly reflecting the hardships and triumphs one faces in the world. Plus, the lessons Dulcina learns harken back to the production’s fairy tale roots, allowing audiences to embrace the fantastical turns present throughout the story fully.
Howl is not perfect, and its issues may cause some to turn the film off rather quickly. But, anyone who watches to the end will be treated to an original treatise on several issues many people struggle with. Combine that with the singular vision of the star-director-writer-producer and haunting score, and the film winds up working more often than not.
"…harkens back to the production's fairy tale roots..."