A family who move into a remote milll house in Ireland find themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.
June 26, 2015
Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino
Joseph Mawle as Adam Hitchens
Bojana Novakovic as Clare Hitchens
Michael McElhatton as Colm Donnelly
Taking away the most awards at the closing ceremony of the 2015 Screamfest Film Festival, as well as celebrating its Los Angeles premiere, The Hallow is a gem of a creature feature and one for which you’ll plainly see that getting lost in the woods is definitely worth the trouble.
Originally titled The Woods, The Hallow garnered awards for Best Director (Corin Hardy), Best Special Effects, Best Make-up, Best Cinematography (Martijn van Broekhuizen) and Best Score (James Gosling).
Adam Hitchens and his wife Clare have moved to a very remote and ancient home in the Irish countryside with their newborn baby. Adam’s a tree conservationist and his forthcoming work in the vast tree-lined expanse has gathered lots of negative attention from the suspicious and superstitious locals. Naturally, being big-city folk transferred from London, Adam and Clare don’t take the warnings of “the hallow” and its mysterious and magical inhabitants seriously – and as it to be expected, when in the dark of night – disfigured creatures slither their way out of the woods – they’ll eventually wish they had.
The Hallow moves very quickly. The set-up is enough to get us on board with this family and establish Adam’s profession – before it turns into a claustrophobic and intimate siege film.
As wonderful as the film is, it was lacking in one very big way. This situation which Adam and Clare find themselves in – was just inches away from capturing my complete sympathies. Sure, I was invested in the family (as evidenced by my reactions to the totally effective suspense) and all that they were fighting, but I never completely surrendered to their plight. There was a moment – particularly when their infant son was truly in danger – where I felt my chin start to quiver. But those tears and that final (and necessary) emotional connection, never came to fruition. And I really wanted to go there. That issue is why the film doesn’t reach the highest of heights as far as score. It was indeed a bummer.
With the opening moments of Adam scouting out diseased trees which will eventually need to be destroyed, he carries his little one along on his work, and there was something so endearing about this action. On that note, the lead performers (Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic) offer up a genuine and true relationship as the practical couple – and their concern and connection to their offspring was touching and organic. It never seemed forced. This was helped along by the realistic dialogue they were provided. They never missed a beat during the entire film. I believed all of their actions and reactions. And in a horror film as fantasy-based as this, that’s an automatic win – if we can simply believe.
Scare-wise, there is no shortage of genuine “boo” moments and as mentioned above, plenty of nail-biting suspense. Writer/director Hardy has a firm grasp on how to manipulate his audience organically. You never felt as though you are being played by the film, when in fact, that is exactly what is happening. Of particular note was the sequence where Adam is driving home with the baby – and his car breaks down. It’s just on the cusp of dusk, and so the hallow’s night-time creatures are ready to come out for the evening. This entire scene was terrifying and the best example of the film’s suspenseful power.
Now we could hem and haw over the many merits of The Hallow and try to determine what could be touted as the film’s greatest achievement. I think that were you to ask anyone following a screening, there would be a vast majority proclaiming their love and awe for the make-up and special effects. From what I could see, a large portion of the creature effects were practical, and with the tremendously nimble and talented actors portraying the monsters in the woods, you’ll find yourself marveling at what you see appearing from deep within the forest. Pulling inspiration from such “transformational” horror hits like Carpenter’s The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly, you’ll agree with the aforementioned majority when discussing the film’s strongest pieces.
The sound crew also deserves a shout-out. With so many “what was that?” moments, juicy transformation “squishes”, as well as the creature (vaguely reminiscent of the Predator’s noises) sounds themselves, they clearly had a lot on their plate. There’s also the brilliant and terrifying “breaking” and “clinking-clanking” sounds as the “wood-folk” eventually make their way into the old house – despite Adam and Clare’s best efforts.
I was intrigued by the fact that an infant (played by twins as well as an animatronic puppet) was such a central character. Most horror uses small children – able to communicate and run and scream or stalk and scare. But to use a relative newborn – it’s genius. And these tiny actors had a personality to boot! It’s amazing. And since small children and infants are personally foreign to me, I was actually shocked by how much I invested in this tiny babe.
The ending could have gone in two different ways, and with the tense moment of anticipation before letting us off the hook, Hardy makes it pretty clear how things wrapped up. Perhaps a little mystery might have been a better choice, but then the emotional release would have lost some of its power. Indeed, it’s a fitting ending for the characters and their difficult journey.
The Hallow has blazed its way across the festival circuit and is now available on VOD. It also appears that a limited theatrical release is scheduled in the US for November 6th, 2015.