★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Fans of classic J Horror rejoice! Howling Village takes you back to that golden age and your guide is J Horror master and Ju-on creator Takashi Shimizu.
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Ah the 1990s…sometimes referred to as “the last great decade” but normally that is not the phrase coined when talking about the horror movies of the ’90s… unless you are talking about J Horror. Before the ubiquitous streaming services we have today, fans had to hunt down DVDs that had sketchy subtitles and varying quality but the amount of content was massive! Cure, Ringu, Audition are films that still end up on “top horror movies of all time” lists. As we rolled into the 2000’s the wave kept bringing more scares and even bigger hits and Ju-on: The Grudge and the series of sequels and remakes that followed may have been the biggest of all. Now, writer and director Takashi Shimizu is back with a new tale of terror, Howling Village.
The film opens as a young couple Akina (Reiko Takashima) and Yuma (Ryôta Bandô) are attempting to visit the scariest “Spirit Spot” in Japan: The Howling Village. To get there they have to wait by a cursed phone booth that rings at 2 am and invites you to proceed through a very creepy tunnel that leads into Howling Village, a town that mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s.
In the village, Akina has an experience so terrifying that it leaves her practically catatonic, only able to mutter the words to a very strange song about sealing up the secrets of the past. Worried about his girlfriend, Yuma calls his sister and psychotherapist Kanata Morita (Ayaka Miyoshi) to help but she’s unable to diagnose Akina before she takes her own life (in the most J Horror of suicides) rather than live with what she’s seen.
Yuma, Kanata, and their little brother Kota (Hinata Kaizu) set out to enter the Howling Village to learn what drove Akina to take her own life but end up unraveling a terrifying story that also unlocks the history of their own family.
Howling Village hits all the beats that I love about J Horror but it also has its pitfalls- mainly that the runtime is excessive and there is so much exposition that what could have been a streamlined plot gets convoluted by all the storylines. Regardless, I cozied so easily right back into the vibe of the ’90s that 1 of my 4 rating stars may just be for nostalgia.
Howling Village had its US premiere at Popcorn Frights and will be available on VOD platforms on August 17, 2021.