Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Corin Hardy
Writer: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino, Tom DeVille
Producer: Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino
Stars: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley
A family fights for survival after uncovering the existence of supernatural creatures in a remote Irish forest.
For good or for bad, there isn’t terribly much to elaborate on regarding writer/director Corin Hardy’s Irish monster movie “The Hallow.” The film boils down to being straightforward practically to a fault, which should please anyone eager for a simple serving of traditional creature feature creeps, even if a deeper bite of originality would go a long way towards making the movie linger longer on the mind.
“Tree doctor” Adam has uprooted his wife Clare and their infant son Finn for a rustic relocation to a remote millhouse near the woods where he is working. On assignment from a development company, Adam treads through trees collecting samples and assessing the forest’s logging potential, which is a task that does not sit well at all with the grimly grumbling locals.
These aren’t stereotypical tree-hugging hippies hellbent on halting corporate conglomerates from paving paradise with parking lots, however. These are superstitious townspeople who revere the forest as a sacred home to all manner of mythological monsters including changelings, fairies, baby snatchers, and toothy beasts that only exist at night or in nightmares.
Even after discovering a dead deer carcass seeping strange black ooze, puzzling warnings from farmers and shopkeepers receive raised eyebrows in response until Adam ultimately uproots something other than his family. Their longtime lair disturbed, the terrors from the trees take shape as a horde of shadowy goblins with a sting capable of transforming a human into one of their own. When darkness descends, so do the creatures of the hallowed hollow, and they have their sights set square on Adam and Clare’s bouncing baby boy.
“The Hallow” possesses no more and no less story or character development than the basics required for an uncomplicated plotline. Adam is on a vaguely defined mission of environmental assessment, justifying his presence in the forest. Clare is a loving wife who reinforces Adam’s upstanding family man persona while serving as a second protagonist. Baby Finn completes the trio as a fitting motivation for all heroic actions as well as a target for treacherous threats from vicious villains. Some fractured fairy tales then round out the remainder as explanation enough for the supernatural source of the forest’s legendary haunting.
From shifty-eyed villagers staring sidelong at expatriate interlopers to the equivalent of a small town sheriff filling in backstory blanks, clichéd contrivances are plentiful, though they generally come with a caveat. While “The Hallow” might not be fresh in its employment of elements like light harming lurkers that can only stalk in darkness, cryptic references to unspecified woodland monsters as “they,” or more than one usage of an uncooperative engine serendipitously starting just in the nick of time, the cinematic style on display fascinates far more than the tropes frustrate.
The script doesn’t scream for additional depth since the primary purpose of the movie’s lean frame is to showcase a visually arresting atmosphere of sickly eeriness and outstanding practical creature creations that would have Stan Winston applauding. The storyline constitutes a skeleton, but the music, mood, and monsters muster the meat, with a no frills 90-minute runtime locking out anything unnecessary from clinging as extraneous fat.
On occasion, the pace indulges in too much slow build creeping only for the rhythm to be restored by an overturned car, creature attack, or other form of well-timed thrill. And even though the superstitions set into the story aren’t clear on how they fully fit together (Adam reads from a folklore grimoire in two different scenes, yet the audience is not privy to exactly what information he gleans from its pages), there is enough to the mythology to put context behind jittery moments without hollow jump scares bearing the lion’s share of the fright quota burden. All in all, “The Hallow” continually fights battles of balance on multiple fronts. Thankfully, the better side usually emerges triumphant.
The story isn’t ambitious enough to qualify it as a standout, but the maturity of the movie and careful craftsmanship applied to its creation ensure a satisfying quality far above an average Syfy channel monster movie. Those interested in a similar, but more character-driven piece should be on the lookout for “Dark Was the Night” (review here). In the meantime, gorgeous cinematography, excellent effects, and effective execution on a tingling tone of terror make “The Hallow” a worthwhile fright film.
NOTE: "The Hallow" was previously titled "The Woods."
Review Score: 65