Written for Film and TV Now Nov 2015 (Available here)
As a family drive down to their new home in the Irish countryside, a radio broadcast tells us that Ireland is one of the last countries to have publicly owned forests – they will soon find out that the locals are protective of their land, but not as much as the creatures hidden within.
Father of the family Adam (Joseph Mawle) is a conservationist, having moved from London to inspect the trees. On his first expedition with his baby boy on his back he stumbles upon a deer, mutilated in an abandoned shelter and dripping with a suspicious black substance. As warned by a local policeman played by Michael Smiley, local legend tells of mythical beings in the woods, banshees and baby-stealers, “This isn’t London. Things go bump in the night”.
As much as The Hallow is about people from that London moving where they don’t belong and interfering with nature, it becomes a platform for all different kinds of genre tropes. It feels like an amalgam of horror films of different styles. It splices them together but spreads itself thin in doing so. The seclusion of the town and it’s inhabitants feels a little like An American Werewolf in London, their twisted spiritual beliefs like an inversion of the pagan cult in The Wicker Man. The Irish folklore, as detailed in the Evil Dead-like Book of the Dead, gives way to fantastical creatures that have a touch of Pan’s Labyrinth.
For all of its high reference points it doesn’t land as hard of a punch as it should. The preference of practical effects for the monsters is admirable, but as the story progresses and they come to the fore, their scariness fast diminishes. It is the atmosphere that remains unsettling in The Hallow, the creatures, whilst impressive, are not on the Guillermo Del Toro scale of production value and so are best when glimpsed in darkness. This is after all the directorial debut of Corin Hardy, and an impressive one at that.
Whilst some of these ideas can be seen elsewhere it is this certain combination that fits so well, but in trying to fulfil the style of each type of horror (from house invasion, to creature feature, to body horror and psychological thriller) it doesn’t feel as effective as it might have done if it narrowed it’s focus. The disintegration of trust between Adam and his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) leads to a harrowing idea late in the film as they fight over the baby, but with all these plates spinning it’s hard to appreciate how scary this really is.