Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #620
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 25, 2015 (Sundance)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: Ireland, United Kingdom
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Corin Hardy
Producers: Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino
Screenplay: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino
Special Effects: Stephen Coren
Visual Effects: Stephen Coren, Luke Dood
Cinematography: Martijn Van Broekhuizen
Score: James Gosling
Editing: Nick Emerson
Studios: Fantastic Films, Occupant Entertainment
Distributor: Entertainment One
Stars: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley, Gary Lydon, Wren Hardy, Stuart Graham, Conor Craig Stephens, Joss Wyre, Charlotte Williams
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Björk “Earth Intruders”
 James Gosling “The Hallow”
That Mother Nature’s a funny old girl. She may be flat-out busy thanklessly running the planet we inhabit while unscrupulous world leaders take all the credit, but you can’t say she doesn’t possess a sense of humor. Let’s study just a handful of largely unknown facts shall we? Were you aware that the first thing ants do when they wake up each morning is stretch? That a snail can sleep for three years straight? Did you know that cows produce more milk when listening to music? That a woodpecker can perform twenty pecks in a solitary second? That you can discern a skunk’s funk from a mile away? That reindeer like bananas and rabbits are fond of licorice? That it’s physically impossible for a giraffe to cough? Before you go feeling sorry for our lanky friends, their 21 inch tongues make it possible to clean their ears without the need for Q-tips so it all balances out in the end. I mean, crocodiles can’t even move their tongues, which seems a little mean considering hummingbirds can fly backwards. I guess even Mother Nature has her favorites.
It doesn’t end there either. Humans have fewer muscles than a caterpillar, for every one of us there are 200 million insects, a single arrow frog can unleash sufficient poison to kill well over 2,000 people, tarantulas can survive two and a half years without snacking, the Earth is struck by lightning over 100 times every second, the Amazon rainforest produces half the world’s oxygen supply, and bees are absolutely vital to agriculture. That’s right, without their mad pollination skills, the seven billion global human population would soon start dwindling. Perhaps my favorite fact is that more people perish as a result of falling coconuts then from shark attacks. It would appear that she also has a penchant for black comedy. And there we were, thinking we were the dominant species when it turns out mankind are little more than objects for her own sick amusement.
Irish director Corin Hardy’s The Hallow offers a little insight into nature at its most unforgiving although, for English conservationist Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle) and his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic), plummeting coconuts are the very least of their concerns. Along with their newborn baby son Finn, the couple uproot and relocate to a remote Irish village surrounded by a gargantuan forest, so that Adam can further his study of plant life and rare fungi. On initial inspection, their new surroundings appear rather idyllic and a veritable playground for him to explore, even though the locals are some way from welcoming and a lot closer to utterly contemptible.
When moving into any new domain, the first order of the day is to make it look presentable and put your own personal stamp on it. The metal bars on all of the windows will simply have to go and, while Adam’s out collecting samples for his studies, Claire gets to work on removing them. Whoever lived here previously was evidently something of a security freak and, if the Hitchens’ knew the real reason for these fortifications, then they’d likely pack their bags and scarper back to hence they came before you could say “why is that millipede looking at me funny?” Something isn’t kosher and, when the first bump in the night plays out and has them rattled, the police couldn’t be more disinterested.
To their credit, these indifferent flatfoots do inform Adam and Claire of a dash of topical folklore involving the surrounding woodland, which locals refer to as The Hallow but it’s far too whimsical for either one of them to possibly entertain. We’re talking demonic fairies, howling banshees, and baby snatching long-legged beasties here and they apparently don’t take kindly to out-of-towners. While quick to dismiss this as claptrap, the wheels of woe have already been set in motion practically upon their arrival after Adam discovered a rotting deer carcass hosting a mysterious blackened sludge while rambling deep in the thicket. It turn out that said gunk effectively works like a body snatcher, taking gradual control of its host until nothing human remains.
To compound Claire’s misery, whatever the hell is lurking in the woods has designs on Finn and, with Adam’s grip on reality rapidly slackening, it really is time to pack those bags. Hardy’s approach up until this point has been steady and unspectacular but, after a terrifying ambush at their home leaves them under no illusion as to the plight they face holding onto their beloved child, it’s time for Claire to show just how far a mother will go to protect her offspring. It’s an interesting switch as Adam has been the primary focus for the first two acts but he’s got his own problems to deal with, such as pondering why his significant other is so reluctant to offer him a shoulder massage.
The closing act is the epitome of breathless and it is here that Hardy unleashes all manner of gnarled creatures and makes shit a lot more literal. Think Straw Dogs if Susan George had been shafted by a sycamore and you’re in the right neck of the woods as The Hallow drops the blind fear quick-smart in favor of some good old-fashioned survival horror complete with all manner of unsightly undesirables.
Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s camerawork takes full advantage of the light and shade at his disposal, revealing numerous potential hiding spots from which the incoming fiends can lunge from, and lending a dark fairy tale feel to proceedings à la Guillermo Del Toro at his most fanciful. Meanwhile, both the sound and production design are on-point and foreboding atmosphere is something that Hardy’s film certainly isn’t found wanting.
When you bear in mind this is the director’s first full-length film (after a string of award-winning shorts I hasten to add), what he achieves with limited resources is incredibly impressive. It’s plain to see that he loves a monster movie and The Hallow draws influence from a number of well-regarded classics, while managing not to become pastiche, instead finding its own identity and a decent one at that.
Ultimately it is a couple of notches from being regarded as something truly memorable and, while Mawle and Novakovic are excellent as the harried interlopers, a little longer spent developing their characters and building suspense could have remedied this. That said, on the evidence of this assured little number, I’d say it’s high time Hardy gives up his day job. As for me, well I’ll never look at a deer the same way again so, if nothing else, he’s made a believer out of me.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: Hardy provides us with plenty of reasons not to venture out into the woods at night and the middle act, in particular, is quietly effective in its generation of white-knuckled suspense. Granted, once it plays its card, The Hallow becomes a flat-out race to see sunlight, but the creatures themselves are a nightmarish bunch. Mixing practical effects, puppetry, animatronics, and prosthetics along and a mere whiff of CGI for additional grisly sheen, they’re hardly the most congenial bunch and don’t take kindly to any snide comments about their shoddy manicures.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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