EIFF 2015: ‘The Hallow’ Review 0 23

eiff-2015-the-hallow-review

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.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 187

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 212

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10