Have you ever heard of the Howling Village? Or rather, Inunaki Tunnel or Inunaki Village? It’s a rather well known urban legend in Japan though it’s understandable if you’ve not heard of it. Unlike famous Japanese urban legends like the Yuki-onna or the Kuchisake-onna, Inunaki Tunnel is legend with a more subdued (though no less creepy) nature.
I consider myself a dark tourist. I have a bucket list of creepy/forbidden places that I would LOVE to go to…but my wife wouldn’t let me. Sadly, I’m too chicken to go alone. I’m curious, not crazy.
The Inunaki Tunnel is definitely there on my list.
It doesn’t take much guessing then why I went to watch Howling Village, does it? It’s Japanese horror (my favourite type!), it’s about an urban legend that’s awesome and it’s by the guy who did the Ju-on films! What more motivation do you need right?!
So…is Howling Village a good horror film?
Find out ahead.
What is Howling Village?
The tunnel itself is real, as is the murder that happened there. It’s also the site of various paranormal activity, with records of disembodied voices, feelings of dread and sightings of apparitions. It’s a damn creepy place is what I’m saying.
The urban legend parts comes later.
Supposedly, at the end of the tunnel, there exists a hidden village (Inunaki Village), where the constitution of Japan doesn’t hold sway. That basically means anything goes in that location, a no man’s land. There are a ton of different urban legends regarding this, some paranormal in nature, some just plain creepy.
Nobody really knows why the tunnel leading to the abandoned village was sealed up, and there are also conflicting reports on why the village was abandoned in the first place. These range from murders and spirits to more plain fare like it’s a dangerous place to visit.
Ok, so now that bit of exposition is out of the way, let’s get on to the movie itself.
What about the Howling Village?
It’s directed by Takashi Shimizu, who also did the Ju-on movies. Say what you may of the latter movies, but the original is still one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.
The movie’s official running time is 108 mins, which isn’t that bad (but isn’t that long either). Howling Village’s just started its run today in Singapore, 5th March 2020.
It has Ayaka Miyoshi in the starring role as Kanae Morita, who plays a psychologist with the ability to see spirits.
The movie deals with her brothers’ (Yuma and Kota) fascination with the Inunaki Tunnel (and the village beyond) and also with the mysterious deaths that are starting to occur again.
Kanae’s family seems to be connected to both…but how and why?
I’d hoped that Shimizu’s gotten his mojo back for Howling Village after the disappointing Ju-on sequels.
It’s one of the reasons I went to see the movie. I wanted to be scared shitless, afraid of sitting in the darkness of the cinema, even though I’m surrounded by other moviegoers.
Unfortunately, that’s not meant to be. While Howling Village is a decent horror romp, it’s also a bit of a disappointment. While the movie is at times creepy as hell, most of it is rather boring and slow.
I don’t mind horror movies with a slow burn (Alien is my favourite movie of all time) but there’s too little payoff with Howling Village.
The beginning is horrifying enticing; two youths brave the Inunaki Tunnel to journey to Inunaki village. You’re immediately intrigued about what could be going on in the fabled tunnel and what the rest of the movie could be like.
Here, Shimizu’s teasing works to great effect. Split second blink-and-you-will-miss-it appearances of the spirits hint about what’s in store for the couple as they make their way deeper into the village.
You know the village is haunted…but you want to know why it’s that way in the first place. Of course, you also anticipate being scared out your pants on the way.
Here’s where the movie stumbles a bit. Some of the buildup that the movie does for the scares are amazing, though most are pretty generic J-horror tropes. They’re not bad, but I wish the movie had more to offer than rehashed scares.
At times, Howling Village feels like a redo of the best parts of Ju-on, just with a different cast and location. That’s not a slight against the movie or the Ju-on series, it’s just that I had high hopes for more.
However, the tension and brilliant teasing simply fizzles out after awhile, leaving a barely noteworthy story in its place. Yes, there are awesome moments in the movie (the spirit murder in the phone booth for one) but the flick is padded by scenes that do nothing to further the plot along.
How about more about the Howling Village instead?
Do we really need the subplot about the kid and his deceased mama? Sure, there’s a tie that connects him to Inunaki Village but it’s unnecessary. I’d have loved more time spent on building up the tunnel and village instead of all the minutes wasted on that boring subplot.
In fact, both the Inunaki Tunnel and Village should’ve gotten way more screen time in the film than what we got. Those are the best locations in the movie, yet are mostly relegated to bit pieces until the final act.
If that’s all that was wrong with the movie, I’d have not much problem with it. Unfortunately, the whole final act is so illogical that it completely takes you out of the movie.
How jarring? It somehow involves a friendly ghost and time travel.
Note that before the final act there was never any mention of either. They’re both shoved into your face at the final third of the movie and you’re left to deal with it.
It completely destroys all the hype and creepiness the movie has built up to that point. The decision to brave Inunaki Village by protagonist Kanae isn’t well thought out nor is it interesting. She goes simply because it’s in the script, not because of the plot.
Perhaps a more fleshed out motivation would’ve helped make Kanae’s journey more memorable.
Even worse is the trek through the village. You’d expect scares galore and non-stop chills seeing as how the whole movie has built up how creepy and scary the spirits from the village are. This is where the movie should pull out all the stops right?
Nope. No scares, no chills, nothing even remotely scary. It’s a horrible, horrible letdown.
In fact, the whole climax in the end (not going to say what because of spoilers), is so laughably mishandled that it completely ruins the movie for me. The visual effects are pretty bad too, especially for Maya (you’ll know who I’m talking about when you watch it).
Her transformation isn’t scary at all, and comes off as awkward instead of horrifying. The visual effects for the spirits aren’t so hot either but they’re passable and scary enough when it matters. I’d honestly gone in expecting some great horror imagery (akin to Ju-on’s Kayako making her way down the stairs in the original) but what I got from the film instead was generic J-horror fare.
Perhaps there was something lost in the translation that made the movie a bit too stilted for my tastes. After all, being a Japanese movie it’s not like I can understand everything they’re saying. I’m depending on the subtitles to convey the nuances and emotions of the actors.
Still, while they might not be as good as they could’ve been, I honestly feel that they’re adequate to make you understand the plot. They’re not so wooden as if you’re reading from a book, but there are times when the translation’s a bit stilted.
I don’t know whether it’s the line the subs are translating that’s weird but some lines do come across as weird and unnatural. Forced and unnatural even…and not in a good way.
The bottom line.
Howling Village had me going for two thirds of the movie, I’m not going to lie. There were unnecessarily slow parts, but all in all, it had me interested. The build up was there, the characters were interesting, the premise was intriguing…all the hallmarks of a good J-horror movie!
Shimizu’s deft touch comes across multiple times, with some great setups for the horror. There’s definitely great potential in the movie for the beginning and middle.
Unfortunately, it sharply veered away from being creepy and scary to stupid and nonsensical for the last third of the movie, which destroys all the build-up the movie had achieved, leading to an incredibly lame and unsatisfying ending.
Good movie for the first hour or so with decent scares and creepy happenings. It’s ruined by a lacking final act that eschews logic established by the rest of the movie, for its nonsensical ending.
- Very creepy in some parts.
- Doesn’t depend on jump scares.
- Interesting source material.
- The whole third act sucks.
- Needs more exposition and buildup.
- Some parts tend to drag on.