Rating: 3 out of 5.

Where would J-horror be without director Takashi Shimizu? The Japanese filmmaker birthed a franchise with his Ju-On: The Grudge films, shortly after Ringu exploded onto the scene. He mainly focuses on foreign film, but Shimizu has also dipped his toes into American cinema with 2006’s The Grudge 2 and Flight 7500. His newest film, Howling Village, is certainly style over substance. However, its chilling selection of a real life Japanese urban legend—the allegedly haunted Inunaki Village, accessible only through “the Old Howling Tunnel”—explodes with atmospheric energy and J-horror tropes.

Following a horribly creepy visit to “Japan’s scariest spot,” Akina (Rinka Otani) has been acting “strange” since returning from the howling tunnel with her boyfriend, Yuma (Ryota Bando). Soon, she jumps to her creepy slow-motion death and in true Japanese tradition, cracks all of her bones. Yuma vanished without a trace, making the idea of a potential curse that much more feasible. Now, Yuma’s sister, Kanae (Ayaka Miyoshi), works to solve the disappearance of Yuma, and uncover the truth about Akina’s death.

A village “wiped off the map” hidden somewhere in the mountains is already a horrifying image before even getting into the supernatural specifics. Suffice to say, Howling Village was not at all what I was expecting. Yeah, there is a crack-boned long-haired creepy female scene, but knowing it was Shimizu, I expected nothing less. Let’s just say the horror subgenre Shimizu dips his toes in here were unfamiliar waters based on what I have seen previously from this director. When you factor in trippy bizarre creepy deaths, creepy lore, and the precise style of Takashi Shimizu, you have one seriously disturbing (if flawed) piece of Japanese cinema.

Howling Village screened at the 2021 Popcorn Frights Film Festival, and is available to rent or purchase on most VOD platforms.

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