The Hallow Is Full Of Atmospheric Tension – Movie Review
The Hallow utilizes a blend of strong acting, atmospheric tension, a story inspired by real life folk tales, and practical effects in crafting an unnerving horror flick; albeit one that, despite its attention to detail, cannot escape the myriad of genre cliches the story falls back on in an otherwise very well made film.
Horror movies, next to comedies, may be the toughest genre of film to make. The standards for terror, much like humor, has evolved throughout the decades of social progression and exposure to more content from various sources. While the mere concept of things that go bump in the night is still enough to instill fear in audiences, the general public has become more attuned to the cheap thrills that have become well known in what transformed horror into what was commonly known throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s as the “slasher” genre. Excessive franchises like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween, while all holding their respective places as horror classics in at least one entry in the franchise, muddied the waters with the overuse of common tropes and familiar devices in their attempts to frighten people. There are those who still scare easily out there, and even the most weathered moviegoer may jump at the occasionally shrill high orchestral note intended to startle and illicit a “jump scare” response that can be attributed as fear, but is nothing more of an instinctual reaction to a loud noise for most. Which begs the question: would The Hallow be another stale entry for the genre or a breath of fresh air?
Recently, a number of films have shown that there is still hope for a return to form for horror, as evidenced by The Conjuring, The Vvitch, and The Babadook, among others, that have shown that with some attention to detail in crafting a story that engrosses the viewer at not only the threat of a natural or supernatural threat that lurks in the shadows, but also the characters and the world that they encompass; and while not a prerequisite, but an emphasis on practical effects is always a welcome addition to further the seeming reality of the predicament of the characters.
In co-writing and directing The Hallow, Corin Hardy delved into Irish mythology from the Book of Invasion (Lebor Gabála Érenn) as his source of inspiration for the antagonistic elements in the film. While using folklore in horror is not a new idea, Hardy does so with care in allowing the impending dread to slowly build and for the viewers to remain in as much mystery as the focal characters themselves. The Hallow operates with a minimal cast heavily lead by Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic, playing the husband and wife roles of Adam and Claire Hitchens, and their often intrusive neighbor Colm Donnelly, played by Michael McElhatton. Mawle anchors the film as a conservationist exploring and monitoring the woods while drawing the ire of the locals who believe in an Irish folk tale that tells of those who guard the woods against those who enter. Mawle’s performance is solid and often displays a wide range of believable emotions given his character, although he is difficult to attach to in the way he is written. Similarly, Novakovic delivers a strong performance as the matriarch of the family who stands by her often stubborn husband.
Hardy directs the film well and allows for plentiful opportunities of scares, both of the properly built up to and the jump scare variety, and creates a scary film. The use of practical effects mixed with small amounts of CGI blend together well in making The Hallow a “creature feature” that feels at times real, similar to films like The Descent, instead of a completely fabricated special effects show that never feels authentic. Cinematographer Martijn Van Broekhuizen complements the overall tone of the film well with haunting, secluded atmospheres and environments that add to the feeling of isolation the characters experience in their new surroundings.
While Hardy does succeed on many fronts, there are moments that fall flat specifically in the script that do take away from some of the stronger aspects of the film. Like far too many horror films, the characters of Adam and Claire are a little too one dimensional and don’t allow for the type of attachment that helps the audience effectively gravitate to them and their plight. While Hardy taps into mythology as his inspiration, and does use bits and pieces in constructing the plot, the story deviates from them slightly to go down a different path that, while thrilling in its own regard, feels like a distracting change of pace from the outline initially set forward. The latter stages of the film provides plenty of the extended graphic content that horror fans look forward to, but also feel like a grand shift from the slow burn Hardy allows to gestate throughout the first hour. While these are not out and out flaws, they do feel like a jarring change from what is a more eloquently crafted beginning that doesn’t realize its full potential. The decision to cut the film to 97 minutes clings to the standard of the genre, but The Hallow would have been better off with another 10 to 15 minutes of run time to more appropriately develop the leads and set the stage better for a sequel that doesn’t scream to be a mere cliche entry.
There is a great deal to enjoy in The Hallow; the visuals are an appealing blend of practical and special effects, Mawle and Novakovic give strong performances in spite of the flaws in their characters, and Hardy shows great promise in either both horror and thriller features should he desire to spread his wings in other films. Horror fans will find plenty to love in the latter half of The Hallow while fans of well-paced dramas will much rather take pleasure in the slow dramatic build in the early going. While the film has its high points and does not falter in any particular stanza, it does leave viewers wishing for more than what the final product delivers.
The Hallow is written and direct by Corin Hardy and stars Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic.