Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #140
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 31 July 2011 (Fantasia Festival), 19 February 2013 (US)
Sub-Genre: Found Footage
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Michael Axelgaard
Producers:: Michael Axelgaard, Matthew Holt
Screenplay: Matthew Holt
Cinematography: Mark James
Editing: Ian Farr, Chris Gill
Studio: Hollow Pictures
Distributor: Tribeca Film, Metrodome Distribution
Stars: Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Jessica Ellerby, Matt Stokoe, Simon Roberts, David Baukham
Suggested Audio Candy
 Rob Ickes “Can’t Find My Way Home”
 The Verve “Weeping Willow”
Of all the burning questions that have populated my head space over the past few years, one in particular has been ever-present and I’m hoping you can assist in solving this incessant conundrum. Surely all the footage has been found by now right? You see, for as novel an idea as it was to begin with, this sub-genre has become woefully saturated of late and another shaky handheld cam effort seems to plop into the marketplace on a bi-weekly basis. Please bear with me as Michael Axelgaard’s first full-length feature Hollow is not in line for the sound scathing you may be anticipating but, for now, I feel compelled to continue my opening rant. So where was I? Found Footage films, that was it. Grrr!
Okay, let me start by administering any due credit before opening any cans of whoop. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez are officially the two men responsible for damn near pioneering an aneurysm thanks to The Blair Witch Project in 1999 and their nightmare-inducing shriekfest had my nerves in tatters by the time it arrived at its departing sucker punch. Things were off to a fine start and there have admittedly been a few highlights (Paranormal Activity, Grave Encounters) amidst the insipid dross (Episode 50, Paranormal Entity) that has surfaced since. My chief issue is that this well-trodden template affords precious little room for maneuver. Traditionally clocking in at around the eighty-minute mark, the lion’s share of our time invariably entails “tension building” with any incident compacted into the closing third. Let’s not get things twisted, I love me some characterization as much as the next man. However, with no real surprises forecast, aside from the all-important final flurry, these eighty minutes often end up feeling more like a hundred.
The issues don’t end there either as, due to realism being first and foremost, the chosen format doesn’t allow for much outside of the customary bumps in the night to get the blood pumping. As a lifelong horror fanatic, it all feels a little restricting, if I’m honest. There are the odd exception to the rule and the V/H/S series use the Found Footage approach to introduce us to all manner of horned hellions, winged nasties, and vats of delicious grue to spice things up. By and large however, we’re lucky if we are gifted a hunched over shadow to encourage us out of our skins. Given that we are supplied with such an exclusive vantage, there should be boundless opportunities to chill us to our marrow but, more often than not, they end up going begging. Rant over as I’m pleased to report that this little known British effort manages to navigate the minefield, exceeding the industry standard fairly effortlessly.
We join close friends Emma (Emily Plumtree), James (Sam Stockman), Lynne (Jessica Ellerby) and Scott (Matt Stokoe) as the two couples head off to a remote village in Suffolk for a short break at the rural home of Emma’s recently deceased grandfather. Before long, their inquisitive natures get the better of them and they decide to poke around a local ruined monastery rumored to be teeming with restless spirits. Legend has it that said ghouls have a tendency to coerce couples into committing suicide and, after dismissing this as superstitious claptrap, they make their next grave error. Hanging ominously in the nearby grounds is a rather inhospitable looking hollow tree said to accommodate unthinkable evil and it turns out that this local folklore is way beyond bang on the money. Let’s just say that I’m all about done with tree etching for the foreseeable.
While Hollow is just as culpable for the usual pacing concerns as so many of its stablemates, a number of things elevate Axelgaard’s debut well above grass-roots. All four leads excel in their roles, especially as time wears on and tempers start to fray. Matthew Holt’s savvy screenplay aids here as it provides each with their own complexities and his group dynamic works exceedingly well also. Old flames are evidently still burning bright and the cursed tree exposes these weaknesses, courting confusion and angst as they progressively splinter. Meanwhile, the camera manages never to be a distraction, its implementation feels logical as it dispenses the only bankable light source for our hapless protagonists and keeps us as much in the dark as them. The surroundings lend themselves well to the steadily creeping dread, while Axelgaard governs the suspense admirably as the ill-fated friends gradually descend into the darkest heart of this titular hollow.
The tree itself proves an exquisite bargaining tool to our terror and every last knot in its bark positively bites its damnation. Taking its leaf from The Blair Witch Project, any sense of mystery is upheld right up to the last and this allows it to fasten its roots deep beneath our skin and remain there as we recall the experience in the suddenly less comfortable confines of our personal quarters come nightfall. As for the all important finale, Axelgaard’s fortitude in dishing out the requisite chills is commendable as is his decision to impart a dash of enduring imagery just to unsettle us even further. Another recent British effort, Richard Parry’s A Night in The Woods, built up a similar head of mist only to squander its potential at last knockings but Hollow cunningly sidesteps such banana skins by coming more than good on its primary oath.
So how does Axelgaard’s film measure up against the droves of Found Footage sludge systematically excreted during the sub genre’s all too flush period? Pretty bloody well actually. Granted, it may not boast the rocket ship pacing of premium efforts such as Bradley Parker’s The Chernobyl Diaries, John Erick Dowdle’s As Above, So Below and Adam Robitel’s The Taking of Deborah Logan but it is every bit deserving of being provided the same privileges. Eerie it most certainly is, never more so than when we’re presented with the premonitory hollow of the title. And heralding from a sub-genre that habitually struggles to come good on its promise, that’s very much job done in my books.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Rating: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: With the exception of an eviscerated fox carcass, there’s precious little in the way of grue as it couldn’t be more surplus to requirement here. Where Hollow does compensate is through a steady build up of tension and a climactic shot which cannot help but bestow an interminable stain on your psyche. There’s even a smidgen of bare flesh to further sweeten the deal.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™