Howling Village comes from Takashi Shimizu, director of the Ju-On (The Grudge) series. It starts with two reckless teenagers on a ghost hunt. They are trying to uncover the truth about a haunted phone booth leading to a cursed village that’s wiped off the maps. Unfortunately for the kids, the legend proves to be true. Traumatized and horrified, they tell the story to their family, and that’s how Kanata (Ayaka Miyoshi) is introduced to the spooky tale. She is a child psychologist with the power to communicate with the ghosts. Her exceptional and mysterious power, with her determination to locate the forgotten village, sets her on a quest for truth.
Screenwriters Shimizu and Daisuke Hosaka have included everything a good horror film needs: a haunted village, a protagonist with supernatural powers, and dark secrets everyone is trying to forget. This formula should guarantee success, as it has for many popular films. As the audience gets more and more familiar with the setting and background, more questions arise. Though the film is a spooky tale, this sense of mystery is the main driving force of the story. As director, Shimizu uses tension and mystery to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. He rarely resorts to jump scares and mostly relies on creating an atmosphere full of suspense.
“…a haunted village, a protagonist with supernatural powers, and dark secrets…”
The second half of The Howling Village is where it falls short. As secrets unfold and Kanata finds out more about the doomed village, the whole story starts crumbling beneath itself. The big reveal is supposed to make sense of all the different secrets and mysteries the film has plotted out, but instead, it makes everything more complicated. The fate of the villagers is never further discussed, while a certain plot point is so ridiculous it strains all credibility.
By the end of the movie, most of the main questions are not answered, and the few answered ones just don’t make sense. The mystery that kept the audience engaged for a good hour turns into a burden on their shoulders due to the lack of a well-thought reveal. In addition, the moral of the story, if there is one, gets lost in the chaos and inconsistencies of the screenplay. Although Shimizu does his best to create an engaging horror experience in the first half, he fails to wrap things up properly, which renders all his efforts futile.
Howling Village had a lot of potential. It could have been the next Ringu. Instead, it turns out to be a reminder for horror fans and directors that the big reveal is as important as the mystery itself. The cold, unsettling atmosphere fails to bear fruit because of its disappointing climax. In the end, despite some strong visuals, the film feels just like a ride through a tepid haunted house: scary and mysterious, yet empty and unremarkable.
"…uses tension and mystery to keep the audience on the edge of their seats."