Director: Corin Hardy
Starring: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton
Release Date: 13 November 2015
The imagination of our long-dead ancestors has given birth to plenty of horror material for filmmakers to tap into. But while we’ve seen a fair share of Egyptian and Indian demons, a lot of places’ myths and legends have been underused. Director Corin Hardy has chosen to introduce us to the horrific side of Irish folklore in his debut feature, and he does so in a way that has little to do with our common conceptions of fairies and leprechauns. The things you’ll encounter in this creature feature are more likely to murder you than take you to Neverland.
To set the tone, The Hallow opens with a quote from the pseudo-historical Book of Invasions, which supposedly chronicles how the Irish took Ireland from the sidhe. It almost makes the evil woodland creatures to be the victims, but the film itself does little to reinforce that idea and is somewhat more straightforward in its distinction of good and evil. Also, by the end, you’ll be wandering how the Irish managed to settle in Ireland at all.
We follow Adam and Claire (Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic) and their infant son, as they move to their quiet new home in the woods. The beginning, full of beautiful Irish vistas and set to music more mystical than suspenseful, soon gives way to a slow and creeping kind of horror. During one of his excursions into the woods, Adam, who’s a botanist, discovers a species of parasitic fungi that hijack and zombify their hosts. It is the film’s attempt at reconciling myth and science, which, unfortunately, is an idea that soon gets lost in the frantic madness that follows. It would have been nice if the film’s scientist had a more scientific approach to things. Instead, he resorts to running around with a burning scythe. Which, I have to admit, makes for more striking imagery than flipping through a biology book.
Director Corin Hardy obviously has a knack for visually dramatic, suspenseful moments. The majority of the film takes place at night and what little light is available to the characters plays an important role for their survival. This results in a nice little symbiosis between visuals and narrative. In addition to the cool-looking scythe-torch, we have a creatively used camera flash (obvious homage to Rear Window), a maddeningly slow to recharge wind-up flashlight, swinging lamps that provide tenuous protection from the encroaching darkness, and much more. One thing that’s consistently good throughout the movie is the visuals. Cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen captures with equal finesse both the beautiful nature of Ireland and the unnatural creepfest that lurks behind it.
The unfairylike sidhe are amazing during the first part of The Hallow, where we see only bits and pieces. A little of the magic is lost when they come into full view, but that’s a problem all creature features suffer from, despite the quality of the animatronics. In its second part, the film compensates for the lost creepiness with heart attack-inducing chase sequences, tons of jump scares and a good dose of body horror.
The Hallow is not without flaws. For example, Michael McElhatton’s character is reduced to “the local who warns outsiders”, a cliche that’s been around since Pet Sematary. He is ignored (of course), but later drops by again, dumps a creepy old book on the table and leaves, because this is (presumably) more helpful than simply explaining things to them. I’m sorry, but veiled remarks by superstitious townspeople are hardly scary anymore.
The acting of the two leads, however, manages to shine through all the action. There are several quiet scenes, where you can just feel the tension and distrust creeping between them. If you made a whole film of scenes like that, you would get something like The Shining. But The Hallow chooses to focus primarily on physical threat and it does so with style. With most of the action taking place in one night, it is a frantic non-stop nightmare that reaches its surreal, but very satisfying, ending with the first rays of dawn.