Why do people like to be scared? That’s the question that I asked Japanese filmmaker Takashi Shimizu during a video interview last week. The director, best known for the horror masterpiece Ju-On: The Grudge, laughed slightly before recounting how he was a bit of a “scaredy cat” as a young boy. Ghosts were what scared the director most as a child, and he’s chosen to utilize those childhood fears to craft terrifying stories for adults. His most recent film, Howling Village, is no exception.
The film follows Kanata Morita (Ayaka Miyoshi), a young psychologist with a gift, whose search for her missing brother uncovers some dark and sinister secrets. The cast will mostly be unknown to Western audiences, but their talent is undeniable. Ayaka Miyoshi especially shines in the role of the amateur sleuth, determined to save her family from dark forces. It’s a pivotal role because the film primarily follows her, breaking away to side characters in short segments only. She makes the supernatural events at play believable and invites viewers to follow her on a journey that few would be brave enough to take alone.
Howling Village is a throwback to the classic days of horror, back when genuine frights were crafted out of atmosphere and a chilling narrative. The film orchestrates an atmosphere of building dread and unsettling moments that had me looking over my shoulder and checking the corners of my dark viewing room. This is accomplished largely through music and sound, which are masterfully used to the film’s advantage. The use of silence is equally utilized, often following the slow build of an eerie score, compounding the tension of a frightful scene.
Howling Village‘s scares aren’t ones that will necessarily make you jump from your seat. You likely won’t screech or clutch your chest in a sudden burst of fright. What Howling Village does is create a feeling of unease and discomfort. It’s the ambiance that stays with you throughout the experience, and long after, as you’re lying in bed and trying to sleep with the lights on.
At its core Howling Village is much more than a horror film. It’s a supernatural mystery that explores themes of guilt and heritage. It blends genres and draws inspiration from folk tales and urban legends to create something entirely unique. There will be moments that you think you’ve figured it all out, and perhaps you have, but there’s almost always another twist or turn in the road that you likely didn’t see coming. While Ju-On: The Grudge still remains Shimizu’s horror masterpiece, Howling Village is a welcomed return to form for the filmmaker.
Asian cinema has long been thought of as the gold standard of ghostly horror. Films like Ringu, The Wailing, Shutter and Dark Water are staples of the horror genre and fantastic examples of how Asian cinema has perfected one of the oldest and most frightening subjects known to man: The Ghost. What lies beyond the grave is a mystery that fuels our fears and our curiosities, and Howling Village is a superb example of why that mystery makes for fantastic filmmaking. 8/10