“Howling Village” Movie Review

犬鳴村 – Inunaki Mura
(“Inunaki Village”)
Japan 2019, Dir. Takashi Shimizu

Ayaka Miyoshi – Kanade
Ryota Bando – Yuma
Tsuyoshi Furukawa – Kenji

Inunaki village (literally “crying dog village”) is the subject of a famous urban legend, located in the mountain of Fukuoka Prefecture, that was supposedly flooded during a dam construction. When her brother Yuma disappears after a trip to the aforementioned legendary village, young psychologist Kanade (Ayaka Miyoshi) starts investigating, and learns that her family is somehow connected to the mysterious village. Her ability to see spirits might have something to do with that.

According to the urban legend, Inunaki village is completely isolated from the outside world that you can only reach through Inunaki tunnel. Supposedly a young couple was murdered after stumbling in there by accident. They also say you can hear disembodied voices inside the tunnel, luring you deeper inside. None of this has been verified, but Inunaki tunnel is an actual place and a popular spot for ghost hunters. Unfortunately it’s sealed off and you can no longer get inside. If you’re interested in the legend, there is tons of information on the net. Anyway, Howling Village uses some of those ideas. It’s the first part of a “folk horror” trilogy from director Takashi Shimizu, all based on famous local legends, with part three being due this year. As for this entry, there are definitely some interesting ideas at work, but at the same time it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

But let’s start with the good parts. Inunaki Village isn’t without its merits. As you might have noticed from the screenshots, it boats some pretty impressive visuals. Director Shimizu (of Ju-On fame) sure has an eye for that. Ghost are visually well done (with one exception), and some of the spectral Inunaki residents’ visits are pretty imaginative. Now, I call it “Japanese horror”, but maybe “supernatural mystery” would be more accurate, because it’s not gonna leave you shaking in your boots. Ghosts just sort of appear, but there isn’t really an atmosphere of anxiety or terror like in Ju-On. But I wouldn’t hold that against it. Although urban legends, creepy villages and horror set in rural Japan aren’t that new any more, I still found Inunaki Village pretty interesting. With loads of references to local culture, there is a very Japanese feel to it. I think if that’s what Shimizu was going for, the endeavor was a success. Oh, I should also mention I liked Ayaka Miyoshi as Kanade, and Tsuyoshi Furukawa as Inunaki resident Kenji.

Although Shimizu is mostly known for the Ju-On franchise, he has actually been pretty prolific in the horror genre: Marebito (2004), Reincarnation (2005), Shock Labyrinth (2009), Rabbit Horror (2011), Innocent Curse (2017), just to mention a few. They all tend to suffer from similar problems (well, except Marebito). Stories tend to be overly complicated and jump between different timelines, while forgetting to delve into characters enough, leaving us with a somewhat detached emotional viewpoint. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Shimizu tries to push the boundaries of the genre and always comes up with new ideas. But the original Ju-On entries still undoubtedly remain his masterpiece. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the setting and story, or the genius of the premise, but nothing comes close in scariness.

Apart from not scaring me at all (though that’s not an easy thing to do), maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t quite understand some parts of the story. Also, I know I complain a lot about how some horror films drop the ball at the end, ruining great buildup with a lame climax. And… they did it again! I don’t get why, after using decent special effects the whole time, they save the worst for last. Without trying to spoil anything, it’s okay story-wise, but that was one of the weirdest-looking ghosts I’ve ever seen. Never mind being scary. Still, it’s a relatively minor hiccup and shouldn’t stop you from watching. Apart from that, I wish more of the movie was actually set in the village, which we only get to see briefly, and in the dark. I was thinking maybe something like Fatal Frame 2 (the game). Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I’ve actually seen the movie three times now, and for some reason I enjoy it more now than the first time. Maybe my expectations were too high. Anyway, if you like urban legends and stories set in rural Japan, definitely give Howling Village a try. It’s not a masterpiece, but more than worth watching for the interesting idea and the imagery. Also, while we’re waiting for part three of the folk horror trilogy (Ushikubi / Ox-Head Village), part two (Suicide Forest Village), was released last year, so keep your eyes peeled for a review.

The good:

Lots of Japanese culture; nice visuals; mostly good effects.

The bad:

Slightly confusing story; not scary, especially towards the end.

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