Ireland/United Kingdom. Directed by Corin Hardy, 2015. Starring Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovik, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley. 97 minutes.
You can learn some important lessons from horror movies (and you in the back who’s about to shout out things like “don’t have sex” and other Scream-type “rules,” feel free to go screw yourself). For example: if you move into a big house in the middle of nowhere and your neighbors advise you to move the hell out, and if you can’t do that, then for the love of Christ don’t take those iron bars off your windows…well, that’s the kind of advice you probably should heed.
Adam and Claire Hitchens (Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovik, respectively) fail to heed this advice, and what’s worse, botanist Adam insists on rooting around forest as part of a survey for a logging company. None of the other locals will go anywhere near the woods, particularly Colm (Michael McElhatton), who’s been a bit unhinged since his daughter Cora disappeared in them years ago. What’s up with these particular woods? Why, that’s where “the Hallow”–the locals’ name for the changelings of Irish legend–live. And I haven’t even gotten to the omnipresent rapid-growth fungus that seems to have a lot in common with the stuff that grew on Stephen King in Creepshow.
Of course, Adam cannot leave well enough alone, and the Hallow make sure things do not end well for the Hitchens or their infant son Finn.
The Hallow has its fair share of flaws–particularly in the third act, including a tendency to rely on jump-scares and “baby-in-danger” tropes, not to mention some business with a flaming scythe that falls on the wrong side of the line separating awesome from silly–but for the most part, director and co-writer Corin Hardy’s début feature is a tense and enjoyable modern monster movie. While the basic premise is a bit hoary (okay, a lot hoary), I enjoyed the light but deft characterization.
Mawle’s performance veers a bit too much towards Bruce Campbell territory in the last half-hour (probably deliberately; this is, after all, a film that credits “Fake Shemps”), but otherwise he does a fine job, as does Novakovik. I only know McElhatton from Game of Thrones, so it was nice to see him show a bit of range (although that’s not saying Colm isn’t entirely un-creepy). Michael Smiley–whose work you are doubtless familiar with, yes?–makes the most of his one scene as a skeptical cop.
But Hardy’s direction is the real selling point here. He evokes a heavy atmosphere, thick with suspense and the knowledge of things you shouldn’t mess around with if you know what’s good for you. In several scenes, he does things with light and shadow that would make hardened criminals weep with terror. The monster design is fantastic, all practical-effect goodness (none of yer CGI goblins here, at least not that I can tell), and best of all Hardy knows better than to over-light the goddamn things.
While I have to admit that once again that The Hallow isn’t likely to win any awards for freshness or originality, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. It’s a fun monster movie with a surprising amount of tension.