Director – Corin Hardy
Cast – Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The Hallow had me hooked for months. I saw it’s first trailer three months ago, and since then I had been dying to see what appeared to be a The Descent-esque creature film from the highly atmospheric Irish countryside. Director/co-writer Corin Hardy makes his feature film debut here and makes a tremendous entrance into the genre. Heavy in effective creature action, alongside body horror, The Hallow gave me everything I wanted to see.
As part of a work project, Adam Hitchens must move his family to an old home in rural Ireland where the superstitious locals believe his work in the nearby woods will disturb “The Hallow”. Ignoring their warnings, the Hitchens family soon learns that the mythical tales of the creatures in the woods are far from mythical.
We see zombies, vampires, werewolves, and other classic antagonists pretty often in the genre. I applaud Hardy for taking on an under-appreciated foe – fairies. Specifically, these are fairies based on Irish lore, which aren’t the pint-sized winged jerks that immediately come to mind. These are large, scary, and out to steal your children. I enjoy stories where unsuspecting victims move into a home / area with a past they are unaware of. Adam must move his family to the 400 year old home so that he can survey the nearby forest that is soon to be demolished. The locals are very unhappy about The Hallow being disturbed, and they make their grievances very obvious to Adam and his wife Clare.
We get our first good shock about 17 minutes into the film, with another coming in 5 minutes later. The jolts continue, in teasing fashion, until the horror manifests at the 44 minute mark in what is one of the most haunting scenes of 2015. From here on out the horror never relents. I honestly would not be surprised if some say that there is too much creature action, taking away from the mystique of the antagonist. I won’t be one of those complaining. The pacing of the film is greatly aided by this non-stop onslaught. There are scenes where our protagonists are stuck in the home, providing for that nowhere-to-run scenario that I love, and there are scenes where they are forced to become mobile. No matter what, the creatures follow them relentlessly and they are never truly safe. The horror isn’t limited to only the creatures though, as there is a body horror sub-plot that must be mentioned. I can’t go into great detail about it without spoiling it for you, so just know that the horror isn’t one-dimensional.
Hardy’s direction is what really sells the film. Sure it’s great to have lots of action written into the story, but it must be brought to life and he does a damn good job of that. To start, the atmosphere is absolutely incredible. He takes full advantage of the saturated forests that adorn Ireland, shooting on location within an actual forest and even a lake. While the daylight scenes are captivating, the nighttime scenes are terrifying. There are numerous dark areas for the creatures to hide just out of sight, and the cinematography leaves you knowing that the Hitchens family is constantly being watched. Simple tactics, like the breaking of a twig within the woods, are used to spook the viewer and grasp your attention in preparation for the impending terror. Hardy delivers on this terror by giving us the classic “man in the suit” approach to the creatures, with a bit of CGI used to enhance the creatures (make their arms longer). I was glad to see that the fairies had some diversity to them. They did not all look the same and they didn’t act the same either. Some are more terrifying than others, with the most terrifying thankfully getting the most screen-time. These creatures aren’t the only ones who put on great performances though. The film was written for star Joseph Mawle (Game of Thrones), and he excels in every way possible. We watch his character go through emotional extremes and he handles each extreme with poise. Bojana Novakovic (Drag Me to Hell) does a good job in a supporting role that eventually becomes a leading one, also going through an intense character transformation similar to her co-star.
Overall, The Hallow is by far the best Irish horror film I have seen this year. It seems like every year a great horror flick comes from Ireland, and they all have one thing in common – atmosphere. Well-written and expertly directed to be a piece appealing to the senses (audio/visual), this is a horrifying experience I highly recommend.