Emma, her fiancee Scott, her childhood friend James, and James’s girlfriend Lynne go on holiday to Suffolk, where Emma’s grandfather lived–and died about a year ago. (And they’re videotaping everything, ostensibly for the benefit of Emma’s relatives.) While going through his things, they discover that he’d developed a sort of obsession with a local creepy-looking hollow tree. The tree has a bad reputation due to being the site of numerous hanging suicides over the ages, and nobody in town will discuss it with them. During the stay, the friends’ behavior becomes more erratic…and dangerous. Could it be that the tree is exerting some evil hold over them?
Hollow starts in the classic found-footage horror fashion: by explaining that a bunch of people died and that they left a pile of videotaped footage of their last few days. Since we know that Emma, Scott, James and Lynne are going to die before we even see them or learn their names, we know that this is going to be one of those stories that’s more about the journey than the destination.
Okay, fine, I can accept that, but was it necessary to make the journey so fucking excruciating?
It’s not the concept this time around: while the basic setup looks pretty stupid when written out, there are a lot of horror movies with premises ten times stupider than “evil tree (non-angry molesting)” that worked ten times better than Hollow. It’s not the cast, either: Emily Plumtree (Emma), Matt Stokoe (Scott), Sam Stockman (James) and Jessica Ellerby (Lynne) may be fairly generic hotties with British accents, but none of the performances are outright terrible. It’s not even the use of the “found footage” conceit: the excuses to leave the camera running are admittedly pretty thin (the spotlight on the camera is the only flashlight they have at night, but apparently it will only turn on if the camera’s recording, which doesn’t sound right to me, but then again I’m hardly an expert), and I sure home that Emma didn’t plan to pass the tapes featuring Lynne stripping down to her underbritches or all four of them snorting cocaine along to her family. But it also uses the cinematic conventions associated with the format very well.
No, the big problem with this one is the writing. I’m not talking about the plot or the story, although those are both by-the-book for the subgenre. No, I’m specifically talking about the characterization. I thoroughly hated these characters. Scott, who spends much of the film either antagonizing James or macking on Lynne, is the big offender here (remember that footage of Lynne getting her kit off? Scott’s responsible for that), but everyone’s to blame here. Lynne’s clearly as hot for Scott as Scott is for her, and she seems to want to use it to make James jealous, while Emma spends the first hour making excuses for Scott. This makes James, a sad-sack self-centered mope who’s been nursing a crush on Emma since their ages were in single digits, the most relatable and likeable of the bunch.
There’s one scene that sums up the dynamic between these four perfectly: they all get drunk and/or high on coke (I don’t remember exactly which). Scott and Lynne do a dirty dance and spend a lot of time fondling each other. Then Lynne goes over to James and asks him why he doesn’t stand up to Scott putting his hands all over her, particularly since nobody else will. Including Lynne herself, who’s clearly enjoying it all. Including Emma, James’s fiancee, who seems to think it’s hilarious.
I’m not sure it’s an issue of “realism.” I’m sure there are plenty of people who will tell me that people behave like this all the time. I’m sure that, in fact, people in fact do behave like this all the time, and I don’t ever see it because I’m never invited to the sort of parties where it’s socially acceptable for your fiancee to feel up your best friend’s significant other in front of everybody, even though none of you are in poly relationships. I just didn’t buy it.
And even if I’m wrong for that…I still hated these characters. If I’m meant to be rooting for Emma–I suspect that’s the filmmakers’ intent, although I’m entirely clear–it’s hard to sympathize with her when she alternates between apologetic (“James, he is trying,” she says of Scott’s behavior, even though it’s obvious that Scott actually isn’t trying) and oblivious. I could forgive the film if it had some sort of underlying message or wisdom, like Cannibal Holocaust did. But it doesn’t.
I think I know what writer Matthew Holt and director Michael Axelgaard were getting at–that somehow Demon Tree was getting inside their heads and causing everybody to be cockfaces to each other, or at least to break down the walls of inhibition so the stuff that everybody had been repressing for so long. But that’s not how it came off to me. Scott comes off as a dickhead the moment he opens his mouth. Hell, Lynne’s an obvious homewrecking slag from the minute she appears in her first shot. There’s simply no progression or development here.
It’s a damn shame because while I don’t think this would have been a great film with better characterization it could have been at least a watchable one. I’m cutting a bit of slack for the rating because I recognize that it might be a bit of a better movie than I’m giving it credit for and my instinctual emotional reaction is compromising my subjectivity. But otherwise, I hated watching this film and couldn’t wait for these four assholes to die so the film would end and I could get on with my life.
My rating: 2 of 10.
United Kingdom. 94 minutes. Directed by Michael Axelgaard. Starring Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Jessica Ellerby, Matt Stokoe.