THE HOWLING: REBORN (2011)
(Directed by Joe Nimziki)
(Written by James Robert Johnston and Joe Nimziki)
(Starring Landon Liboiron, Lindsey Shaw and Ivana Milicevic)
Plot: Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron) is a socially awkward high school student who stalks his crush, Eliana (Lindsey Shaw), which becomes even more awkward when he discovers that he’s a werewolf- and not the only one on campus.
A lot of people would argue that “Howling VII: New Moon Rising” killed the franchise, but I would argue that the financial failure of “Howling VI: The Freaks” was the cause of its death, with “Howling 7” being the post-Mortem evacuation of the series’ bowels. Seventeen years later, every movie and their mothers were being rebooted, so why not resurrect “The Howling“? After all, werewolves had found themselves prowling in mainstream media with the success of “Underworld“, “Twilight” and various TV Shows that are quite popular, even if I’ve never seen any of them. I remember a healthy amount of hype surrounding “The Howling: Reborn” during the early stages of production, only for it to be unceremoniously dumped straight to DVD after receiving mild reviews from the few people who bothered watching it. You see, “The Howling: Reborn” would immediately become infamous for trying to jump on the “Twilight” bandwagon, with its marketing campaign presenting it as the same kind of experience. While the influences are very noticeable though, the actual film borrows just as much from “Spider-Man“, “Scream” and even “Harry Potter“, so I’m pretty sure the filmmakers were simply trying to cash in on whatever was trendy at the time. In 2011- “The Amazing Spider-Man” was in production, “Scream 4” had just been released, with “Twilight: Breaking Dawn- Part 2” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows- Part 2” being the (very profitable) closing chapters of their franchises. Add fans of “The Howling” to the mix and you have a guaranteed financial hit, right? What the filmmakers failed to understand though was that they were trying to appeal to vastly different audiences. The “Twilight” fanbase will not be interested in the grotesque monstrosities of “The Howling“, whose own fanbase would want something grittier and scarier than what “Twilight” has to offer. I will continue to explore the marketing disaster of “The Howling: Reborn“, primarily because it’s more interesting than the movie itself, which is thoroughly below average. Not necessarily terrible and in many ways, even watchable, but its failed quest to assimilate all fanbases upstaged the quality of the film and made it difficult to take seriously.
“The Howling: Reborn” (“Howling 8“) does have the benefit of following the worst entry in an already maligned franchise, so my attention was immediately diverted to the vastly improved production values. I’m sure the budget was still very small, but at least they had enough money to hire actual professionals- both behind and in front of the camera, along with more advanced equipment. “Howling 8” also has decent special effects, although we don’t see any real werewolves until the last 15 minutes, where they must use quick cut editing and shaky camerawork to hide their lack of mobility. The primary designs are reminiscent of the classic wolves from “The Howling“, albeit with additional features to make them vaguely resemble the actors portraying them- a neat touch. The hench-wolves have more bizarre appearances, as their lower bodies are covered in fur, while their upper bodies have a bare and more vampiric design. Quite frankly, I wonder if the filmmakers ran out of the time and monkey required to complete their body suits, so just went with what they had and the final product is a little dorky. The makeup is still OK though and these probably are among the better realized beasts to appear in this franchise, even if the director, editor and cinematographer are forced to pour all of their skills into making them look presentable instead of scary. The attacks are disorienting and the final battle is outright incomprehensible due to these ‘smoke and mirrors tactics’, but at least the primary wolves never looked fake. How they accomplished this and yet overlooked the bad ‘falling dummy’ effect is baffling, although at least that is only one scene. The director seems to have some cool visual ideas, but fails to actually make them cool. For example- characters wander into a basement full of corpses and puddles of blood, with only torchlight revealing this macabre display. That should look awesome, but shooting this grotesque spectacle from a safe distance (medium shots) sort of ruins the power of the image. The cinematography is too generically polished (but passable), the locations are too standard and the music too reliant on pop songs for there to be any atmosphere. I didn’t feel any suspense, primarily because the momentum is continuously deflated by bizarre attempts at humor. A wolf would get killed with a silver trophy, causing a character to quip “I guess it’s a good thing you didn’t win the gold“. If the characters aren’t going to take this seriously, why should we? The most jarring moment has to be when a close friend of the protagonist perishes, which is played for laughs and doesn’t faze our hero, even though the character was supposed to be likable. From a scene-by-scene basis, the direction is competent, but Joe Nimziki struggles with the tone and making an emotional connection with the audience. The script is just as much to blame for this, but Nimziki should’ve either played up the camp or removed it completely, as I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel.
Amusingly, “The Howling: Reborn” was rated R, which means that it will alienate the “Twilight“, “Harry Potter” and “Spider-Man” crowds (which are designed for young teenagers), but the violence is so soft that it might as well be PG-13, alienating those who wanted a true Howling sequel. Whoops! The first thing I noticed was how much much our hero resembles Harry Potter, which I might’ve been willing to dismiss as coincidental if “Howling 8” wasn’t already trying to rip-off everything. The tendrils of “Twilight” aren’t initially obvious, only appearing in the form of a pretentious narration from Will (Landon Liboiron). The dialogue is pretty lame, with such “thought provoking” gems like “We are at our most monstrous when we reject our humanity“. I respect the effort, but not as much as I hate angsty teenager existentialism. Once Will starts going through the process of becoming a werewolf, his skin pales and he begins wearing eye shadow, because now he’s supposed to resemble Edward. The filmmakers don’t seem to have realized that “Twilight” was designed to entertain young girls who related to its heroine and are not going to be interested in the male equivalent, while Will isn’t likable enough to work as an audience surrogate for the boys. Most of us would consider him ’emo’ just based on appearances and we usually don’t stalk our crushes…usually…Bizarrely, the movie has the balls to even take a shot at “Twilight“, while also making fun of werewolf movies, biting both hands that tried to feed it. Yet the “Spider-Man” connections are just as noticeable as the “Twilight” ones. Much like Peter Parker, Wills’ body starts overcoming its human limitations and he uses this to troll the resident bully. While the romance is the focal point of the narrative, “Howling 8” is a lot more action packed than “Twilight” was, so it’s incorrect to dismiss this as a clone. It’s stealing from “Twilight“, but it’s also stealing from everything else. Even “The Blair Witch Project” contributes its iconic scene! The filmmakers attempt to be self referential like “Scream“, except it’s not clever enough to pull this off. Once again, you get the impression that they only even tried because “Scream 4” was likely in development during this films writing stage and “Howling 8” wanted a piece of that pie. But once again, the filmmakers failed to realize that they were drawing from audiences who likely don’t share the same tastes.
The script is very clumsy, although I’m not entirely sure of its intentions. There are a lot of loose ends, suggesting that “Howling 8” was planning a sequel of some sorts, which is a bit presumptuous. Who attacked the mother? She apparently recognized him, but what was her connection to this apparent werewolf? He does make an appearance at the very end, so I can’t call this a plot hole, but I think they should’ve given us something more substantial surrounding the character. Will was wounded by the wolf while in his mothers’ womb, so shouldn’t he be a werewolf already? Why doesn’t he start to change until his later teenaged years? I suppose they were attempting a “Ginger Snaps” by making the transformation a metaphor for puberty, but he’s about to graduate High School, so isn’t he a little old for that? Later on, someone else is infected and they IMMEDIATELY turn into a werewolf, although I guess that could’ve had something to do with ‘the blue moon’ (it’s still vague). The script is constantly wasting time, like having the characters arming themselves with homemade flamethrowers (!!) and hunting the werewolves. When they track them down, they subsequently use the fire to provide a distraction, so that they can…run away? Huh? Their master plan was to find them and promptly flee? What’s the point of having this lengthy scene where Will plans on making a broadcasted heroic sacrifice, which is filled with so much emotion, only for them to not go through it? It’s not even a conscious choice, as they are simply interrupted. At one point, Will needs to resuscitate his girlfriend and immediately after doing so, she is abducted and knocked unconscious once more. Why bother having an entire scene based around waking her up, if she’s out cold again in the next scene? But the WORST offender has to be when Eliana demands that Will have sex with her after he admits that he’s having difficulty controlling his urges. The exchange goes like this.
Eliana: “Do what you want to me.“
Will: “No, you don’t understand. I’ll hurt you!“
Eliana: “Do it! You have a choice!“
They start making out and it appears like they’re about to do it, when he panics and backs away and this process REPEATS for seemingly thousands of years. After all that time though, they never even have sex, so all this did was murder the pacing. Also, the “You have a choice” line is an overarching theme, except Will seems to lose himself in werewolf form and he doesn’t even have memories of what he’s done….So he doesn’t have a choice…Way to fuck up your message, Mr. Movie. I also love how the dialogue will set something up, only to make absolutely no sense in retrospect. Eliana mentions a ‘pack’ and the context seems to imply that she and her boyfriend are werewolves, except they aren’t. So…why did she say that other than to provide a red herring? The remainder of the script is merely pedestrian, with glaringly telegraphed foreshadowing (Jeez, I wonder if his friend hacking a broadcast will come into play) and some laughable oversights. The school has a lockdown system, yet apparently psychotic kids still walk around with guns stuffed in the fronts of their pants. When the bully arms himself, I think it was supposed to be an intense moment, but I couldn’t take it seriously- which sort of embodies my feelings towards the movie. “Howling 8” wants us to care about the characters, but it’s hard to sympathize with the protagonist when his bully is introduced slicing Wills’ neck and no one seems particularly fazed by this unsettling behavior. That makes me laugh uncomfortably, because it’s just too silly to accept as dramatic. When the asshole brandishes a gun, you can do nothing but roll your eyes because it’s amazing how unbelievable this kid is. But nothing else resonates either, because look at our primary characters? Will practically stalks Eliana, drawing way too many pictures of her and yet she finds this appealing? Oh yeah, “Twilight“. But how are we supposed to relate to her or even like her? She’s dating a psychopath, but aggressively flirts with Will (even dancing intimately with him) even though she knows that her asshole boyfriend will cut him just for staring at her. Even if she has a genuine interest in Will, she abandons him when they’re caught wandering around by the security guard, which makes her very endearing (SARCASM!). The early stages of their relationship come across like she’s leading him on and instigating a conflict between her stalker and her crazy boyfriend- whom she seems to forget about and even barely reacts when discovering his death. But what makes Eliana really interesting is that her characterization drastically changes out of nowhere. She’s introduced as sexy, assertive and her intentions for our hero seem ambiguous, but around the half way point, she becomes a traditional ‘girl next door’, presumably to make her more like Bella or Marie Jane…I guess? Their romance is supposed to mean something, even though it seems rooted in lust and manipulation, so…it doesn’t! By the end of the movie, they’re acting like smug pricks for reasons I don’t completely understand, because they were very hollow characters whose development lacks any kind of substance. I will say this: I liked the actors. Even the leading couple has surprising good chemistry that arguably even conquers their inane dialogue (did she just say “You’re like a book I can’t put down“? And she sold that line somewhat convincingly?!). But the inconsistent characterizations only make them less like real people and more like…products…products designed for the trailers to help sell the movie. It’s impossible to make an emotional attachment to characters whose personalities switch depending on which flick the filmmakers are currently borrowing from.
So really, “Howling 8″ tries to be for everyone and yet it ultimately ends up being for no one, except maybe those cinematic masochists who wish to endure the entirety of the Howling franchise…like me…and you know what? I’m not even sure if this is for us because “The Howling Reborn” isn’t even bad enough to satisfy my self destructive cravings. I guess it’s kind of weird that I almost found myself missing the abysmally boring “Howling 4” or abysmally…everything…”Howling 7“, but at least they elicited emotions from me…even if they were the negative kind. The other movies might’ve been inferior on a technical level and maybe were even more frustrating, but at least they were eccentric and achieved their own individual identities amidst their badness. I’ll likely always remember the bizarre “Howling 3“, even if it was somewhat crudely made and even outright dull at times. I doubt I’ll remember “Howling 8” for very long, probably because the memories of the films its borrowing from will have taken its place within my mind, even if the movie itself wasn’t the tedious experience that I was expecting. It’s not atrocious though, even if I’d place it beneath “Howling 5” and “Howling 6” in quality and “Howling 2” in terms of entertainment value (hehe). I found this experience to be mostly underwhelming, but tolerable and I can understand if some would prefer this over the other sequels as it does have slicker production values (which includes superior acting, effects, etc). But isn’t this kind of an anti-climactic ending for the franchise? I feel like “Howling 8” should’ve either been its redemption or furthered its damnation, but instead it just…existed. Yet I have to admit that I’ve grown fond of these Howling flicks, as I always felt like the filmmakers were doing the best they could with what little they had to work with. Unfortunately, incompetence mixed in with decreasing budgets kept the quality in the red, but at least they tried. Even “The Howling: Reborn” deserves some recognition for effort, even if its improvements only make it a slightly below average movie in contrast to the more interestingly terrible predecessors. I did like how each and every sequel experimented with new formulas, visual styles and tones, giving this series a colorful variety rarely found in film franchises. So I enjoyed this years’ Franchise Marathon and “The Howling” and its deformed children kept me intrigued and amused, even if the sequels were never particularly good.
Violence: Rated R, but outside of a severed head, the violence was soft.
Nudity: None, but it sure loves to tease us with it. Lots of sexuality, but nothing explicit.
Overall: “The Howling: Reborn” is derivative and bland, but isn’t unwatchable. But there isn’t any reason to watch it either!