Fairy tale mythology is brought kicking and screaming out of the shadows and into the real world in this striking directorial debut from music video-turned feature film director Corin Hardy. He’s about to direct the new version of The Crow and in The Hallow you can see the attributes that got him the gig.
The plot centres on a couple (played by Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic) who move with their newborn baby to a new home in the remote Irish countryside for a conservationist job. Unwisely ignoring warnings from the locals about not messing with the nearby woods and its history, the couple soon start noticing strange goings on in and around their house. They ultimately finding themselves in a fight for survival against demonic creatures that dwell within the nearby woods.
It’s not a film that exactly reinvents the horror wheel but nor is it aiming to do that. Hardy is clearly a fan of the genre with all his heart and soul, with that love practically bleeding out of every frame of the film, feeling like a kind of loving homage to horrors of years past. It rolls out the staple characteristics associated – from the iconically creaky old house to ominous forest that holds venue to the film’s most eventfully horrific sequences – and plays up to them with glee. At the same time it never feels like a film that rips off anything but is instead infused with those influences in a natural, hat-tipping sort of way.
It’s a film that assuredly builds its tension right from its opening sequence which plants the seeds that something isn’t quite right here and that it can burst out at the characters – and thus the audience – at any given moment. It’s in this early segment that we’re given crucial information as to the folklore, mythology and “rules” that will come in handy later, as relayed by Michael Smiley’s enigmatic policeman; Smiley is a singular actor who instantly elevates whatever film he appears in, even if his screen-time is frustratingly limited.
The same goes for Michael McElhatton (who most will recognise from Game of Thrones, alongside Mawle himself), whose small but crucial role as the character who warns the couple that they shouldn’t mess with the local history. Both of them are somewhat under-utilized – more reappearances would certainly have fleshed out both their characters and their plot angles – but even so you remember them.
For the most part, however, it’s a two-hander between Mawle and Novakovic and they make for an entirely watchable, likeable couple for whom we can root when the proverbial shit hits the fan in the film’s bonkers, monstrous third act, both in terms of events ramping up and in personal peril for the main characters. It’s in that last segment that the film really comes alive, so to speak, solidly delivering on the build-up and making nice use of the film’s menacing location and utilizing a pleasingly practical “man in suit” effects subtly augmented with CGI.
There are a couple of underdeveloped aspects that hold the film back from being as fully formed as you might like, particularly the environmental subtext surrounding the reason why the husband has moved out there with his family in the first place. But these and a few other plot hole niggles are not enough of an issue to derail what is an otherwise solidly effective, creepily atmospheric slice of homegrown horror cinema.