(Ireland, 92 min.)
Dir. Corin Hardy, Writ. Corin Hardy, Olga Barreneche
Starring: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic
Trees and horror moves have an odd relationship. Branches do nasty stuff in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and they’re a source of unintentional hilarity in M. Night Shyalamalan’s The Happening (2008), but the trees an unrelenting menace in Corin Hardy’s debut horror flick The Hallow. Unlike Shyamalan’s lumber blunder, though, The Hallow manages a subtle eco message in an unsettling thrill ride. This old-school horror show uses a quick flash of green thinking as the springboard to nightmarish parable about the relationship humans have with their environment.
The seeds of terror are sown when London tree doctor Adam Hitchins (Joseph Mawle) takes an assignment in a rural Irish community that resists the impending deforestation of the local woods for development. It’s Adam’s job to wander the woods and mark the trees; however, something wicked trolls the area, as Adam quickly notes when he stumbles upon the carcass of a dead deer and later discovers some aggressive mutant vessels swimming in its blood. The Hallow isn’t a body horror per se, but Hardy smartly plays with the audiences expectations as a contaminated specimen risks infecting the infant baby that Adam bizarrely carts with him around the woods. That Adam brings the baby to work is a contemporary bit of parenting, but it’s also one of The Hallow’s ever-present holes: why anyone carries a baby around on a physical job simply doesn’t make sense, especially when all the townspeople bode that the woods aren’t kind to the kids.
The real danger, however, lies in the connection that the townspeople share with the woods. Some unruly neighbours (the kind of the pitchfork and torch variety) show up on the Hitchins’ doorstep and warn Adam’s wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) that her husband had better not disturb the hallow. The hallow, in short, is a colony of demonic fairy-like things that controls the community by harvesting their children during the night. Unable to escape into the woods or turn to their neighbours for help, Adam and Clare quickly find themselves in a standoff with supernatural forces, as well as elements of the natural landscape that turn on them like menacing weeds.
The Hallow delivers old-school chills well in this largely conventional haunted house/family-in-peril pic that draws on myth, folklore, and contemporary green-thinking to craft an unsettling tale about paying heed to environmental warnings. The torment from the hallow begins when natural elements warp the family’s home and technology (roots engulf their car engine and creep through their walls) and Hardy gradually but startlingly reveals the creatures of the hallow with a few jumps and surprises before sicking them on the house Night of the Living Dead style. The film somewhat resembles last year’s overlooked Bulgarian horror film Roseville as the forces in the woods prey on the inhabitants of an isolated cabin, especially once Adam gets the evil of the hallow stung into his blood and becomes a carrier for wicked evil deeds, but Hardy’s technical assurance and hand at genre keeps the film consistently fresh even if the film treads ground that horror audiences have seen before. If the story ever lags, and it does as the finale feels especially protracted, The Hallow has moments of genuine moments of suspense and terror to snap audiences and startle them in their seats.
The film also brings an admirable dash of practical effects to enhance the classical narrative and make old things new again. Hardy assembles some eerie, disgusting monsters that often chill and convince (although the odd shot suggests they’re just dudes in suits with gloves). The film mainly draws its unnerving menace through the director’s excellent visual style and hand at atmosphere, as he and DP Martijn van Broekhuizen create an effectively sinister and supernatural environment using the moonlight, shadows, and trees to create a hallowed land of horror. This visceral chiller from the Emerald Isle is a promising homecoming for old-school horror.
Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The Hallow had its Canadian Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival.