Studio: Tribeca Film
Director: Michael Axelgaard
Writer: Matthew Holt
Producer: Matthew Holt
Stars: Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Jessica Ellerby, Matt Stokoe, Simon Roberts, David Bauckham, Ian Attfield
While on holiday, four friends uncover the legend of a centuries old tree where lovers reportedly hang themselves.
“Hollow” stands out in the overcrowded “found footage” sub-genre by being truly focused on the story of its characters and their relationships. The supernatural legend in this instance takes a backseat and exists to stoke the conflict amongst the film’s core quartet. It is a different take on the stale routine, but one that comes with its own share of challenges.
Scott and Emma are recently engaged. They are taking a holiday in the Suffolk, England countryside where Emma’s deceased grandfather was once a local priest and still has a cottage. Recording the getaway is their mutual friend James, who is also along for the ride. He brings his girlfriend Lynne, although he may have ulterior motives. It seems James has long held a candle for Emma that was not extinguished by her engagement to Scott. James wonders if he can drive a wedge between the couple by using his own girlfriend as bait, since Scott has a history with his wandering eye, and other body parts.
If that description sounds like a difficult to follow soap opera, rest comfortably that there is a paranormal-related detail further complicating this lover’s square. Grandfather’s cottage is near Greyfriar’s Hollow. Greyfriar acquired its name from the monk whose love of a squire’s daughter led to unfortunate fates for everyone involved. For nearly 400 years, a tree has stood in the hollow where lovers seek absolution by hanging themselves. Not only a magnet for love-inspired suicide, locals believe the malevolent monk has a way of twisting the minds of those touched by the tree’s curse.
With a backstory like that, it is a certainty that these two complicated couples have chosen the weekend retreat equivalent of tightrope walking over a snake pit. And “Hollow” does not even pretend that anything other than doom awaits the group. The movie opens with police footage explaining the discovery of four bodies at the tree, making the assumed climax a matter of when and how, not if.
“Hollow” is a film aware of the need to sell itself as “found footage.” The filmmakers take a few other steps to drop in moments that justify the pretenses of constant filming and troublemaking behavior. Early on, James explains that the camera light they use in lieu of a flashlight or anything electric only works while the camera is recording. James also mentions something about his doctor recommending a heart-to-heart with Emma. Perhaps the filming is part of his therapy, too. At the very least, he has an affection for his crush that might be better termed as an unhealthy obsession, so stalking her every move with a camera makes sense from his perspective.
Those are not the greatest justifications, but it is enough to push the plot forward over the slight slope of disbelief. And when it comes time to traipse disrespectfully through a graveyard, a church, ancient ruins, and a haunted tree, the four friends first inhale a baggie of cocaine that would make Tony Montana blush. This is a group unafraid of poor choices. Buying into their baiting of a 400 year-old legend is easy.
The characters all have distinct personalities, although the males lack a tone of endearment. James is a bit of a moping drip, but it explains his slight disregard for social etiquette and his penchant for increasingly odd behavior. Scott is intended to be somewhat of a philandering loudmouth, though his irreverence for religious idols as well as his paws that grab at another woman in his fiancée’s presence grow long in the tooth.
This is a movie about these four characters, and “Hollow” takes its time developing the nuances that bind and separate them. Following the story requires patience for the personality explorations, because those who are in it only for paranormal activity will be met with disappointment.
That there is an ancient legend tying into the weekend’s events is the only thing that puts “Hollow” in the Horror genre instead of straight Drama. There are pulse-quickening moments, although every single one is a jump scare. These jolts are effective, provided the TV is turned up loud, but it bears mentioning that a deaf person looking for a frightening movie will be out of luck.
It is this unorthodox approach to “found footage” horror that sinks “Hollow” as an entertaining film. “Found footage” critics lament that the first two acts are usually boring filler, and investment in the movie’s events is generally tied to how well the film presents relatable characters. “Hollow” flips this notion and delivers fully sketched figures and crafts a meaningful story for them. Unfortunately, that drama is unsatisfying as visceral horror.
In fact, “Hollow” is only partially satisfying as a telenovela. Several scenes, particularly when James and Emma discuss their relationship, go on for extended periods and the audience is not rewarded with any increase in empathy for the couple. By the time nooses are fitted to tree branches, a terror-eager audience will have already tuned out from the slow build melodrama. The filmmakers had a unique frame for generating a “found footage” movie, but “Hollow” is not the most appealing story to plug into that model.
Review Score: 40