Written by: Corin Hardy (screenplay), Felipe Marino (screenplay)
Directed by: Corin Hardy
Starring: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, and Michael McElhatton
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman(@brettgallman)
Nature has a dark side.
The Hallow is a fine example of a genre mashup that gracefully glides between various modes, keeping viewers slightly off-balance and on their toes every step of the way. Local folklore, shifty neighbors, and bad biology swirl about, slowly ensnaring the filmís characters, dooming them to an inevitable fate thatís been bound in an ancient book. You sense that no oneóor at least very few peopleówill escape alive, and the only question is exactly how theyíll be consumed by these Irish backwoods, where madness and mysticism hang as thick as the sinister trees resting in the distance.
The setup is familiar enough, as a family of three have moved from London to rural Ireland, where conservationist Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle) has been charged with studying the nearby forests. With his newborn infant sometimes in tow, he prowls through the woods with his dog, leaving his dutiful wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) at home to deal with the constant harassment of Colm (Michael McElhatton), a surly neighbor who has warned Adam about trespassing on his land. As Adam constantly dismisses the warnings, Colmís advances become more ominous: not only should they stay off of his land, he warns, but they should also pack up and leave immediately to escape the horrible creatures that lurk nearby, waiting to prey on unsuspecting families.
Naturally, Adam is stubborn, but only because heís discovered a curious microbe thatís unlike anything heís ever discovered before, andówell, that might be getting ahead of ourselves a bit. You see, part of the effectiveness here is experiencing The Hallow and allowing its various pieces fall into place. What starts as a half-ass rendition of Straw Dogs descends into something more supernatural, as Irish folklore comes to terrifying life, plunging the film into the depths of a dark, twisted fairy tale usually reserved for the likes of Guillermo del Toro. The Hallow is steeped in Irish lore that warns those against trespassing against nature, lest they incur its wrath in the form of gnarly creatures that go largely unseen for the first half of the film.
Before that point, writer/director Corin Hardy masterfully lays the groundwork, introducing both external conflicts between the Hitchens family and their neighbors and the natural internal tension that arises between parents of a newborn. Raising a child is difficult enough, much less in a strange land surrounded by churlish neighbors while your ancient, dilapidated house seems to be rotting from within. A viscus, black fluid seeps in from the attic above, bleeding through ceiling and the walls, essentially giving tangible form to the strain Adam and Clare feel from all sides. The Hallow rests on many fault lines, all of them constantly rumbling, ready to erupt and swallow its characters.
When they finally do, The Hallow transforms into a wonderfully wicked little creature feature, complete with freakish monsters terrorizing the family within their cabin and without. Much of this stretch is accomplished practically, with gnarled hands creeping through walls before the delightfully macabre creatures make a full appearance. While the proceedings are familiaróechoing everything from The Evil Dead to Pumpkinheadóthey move with such a breathless, suspenseful pace that it never quite feels derivative. Hardyís staging of the creature elements is superbly blocked, shot to preserve maximum clarity even when the film is at its most harrowing and frenzied. This is a monster movie that wants you to see its monsters and the gory carnage they unleash, but, more than that, Hardy looks to engulf the audience in the nightmarish experience with precise sound design. You hear and even feel these creatures constantly swarming, raising the film to a fever pitch that would likely suffice on its own.
And yet, something else boils on the filmís backburner, a development allows The Hallow to dovetail from creature-feature territory into a full-fledged psychological freak-out. The worlds of Adamís science and Irelandís mysticism cleverly coalesce during this final act, exploiting the naturally occurring parental anxieties. Itís here that the affecting turns by Mawle and Novakovic take hold, adding a heartbreaking human dimension that supplements the impressive creature work. Even when their small baby predictably becomes a centerpiece of the terror, itís a natural extension of the fairy tale unfolding around the characters. Putting a baby in peril almost feels like it should be a shortcut to generate some cheap unease for the audience, but this is the crux of The Hallow, a film that pushes two parents to horrifying extremes.
For a film that thrives on a burst of unhinged energy, The Hallow lingers after itís finished, especially since its final couple of shots make the obligatory hint that the horror isnít truly over. Even these almost mandatory tags are carefully crafted for maximum skin-crawling effect, particularly a haunting bit that stretches into the credits and allows the film to burrow itself into your mind just a bit further. Itís a reflection of the exquisite filmmaking on display throughout The Hallow, from its richly photographed locales to its distinctly designed creatures. Hardyís film leaves quite an impression, and itís one that should land him on the radar of genre fans for years to come. The Hallow is the kind of feature debut that feels less like an announcement of potential and more like the bold proclamation of a talent that has already arrived.
The Hallow is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory and IFC Midnight. In addition to an audio commentary with Hardy, the disc sports a 50-minute making-of documentary, three shorter featurettes, a trailer, and separate galleries for the film's storyboards, Hardy's sketchbooks, concept art, and original illustrations.
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