Saturday, 30 October 2021

The Hallow

Hallow Grave

The Hallow
Ireland/UK 2015
Directed by Corin Hardy
Entertainment One

Warning: Some spoilers.

The Hallow is a film I managed to miss on it’s UK cinema debut... I’m guessing because I was probably ill when it came out and it maybe only lasted one week at my local cinema here. It’s a nice looking film and, for a while, it's genuinely creepy... but I’d have to say it’s very much a game of two halves... a great build up mixed in with, perhaps, a little disappointment towards the end.

The film tells the story of four new arrivals in Ireland... Adam (played by Joseph Mawle), his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic), their baby son Finn and their wonderful Welsh Border Collie. They are living in a remote house in a picturesque wood so Adam can be near his work... which is assessing the various trees for disease and marking up which ones need to be cut down before the woodland is sold off to a rich businessman. So, naturally, the locals all hate this new family but, as it transpires, it’s not just hate but fear of what they might bring down that is behind the local prejudices.

For the film is partially based on Irish folklore of some kind (probably a mix of influences actually... I suspect Hardy does his own thing with the antagonists here) and there are ‘little people’ out there in the woods, who the locals warn will come to harm the newcomers for trespassing on their space. Sure enough, ‘the hallow’ as they are known, come to steal Adam and Clare’s baby in a series of attacks and try to substitute it with some kind of changeling. And that’s not quite all to the various incidents and set pieces in the movie but I won’t tell everything here... you should watch it yourself.

The film is well built up with, for the first half, a lot of very slow camera movement and lots of static shots which give everything a leisurely pace at first in the form of a kind of creeping dread. Somewhere near the half way point, though, the attacks start coming and... while the first real attack sequence involving Adam trapped in the boot of his car and the baby trapped in the back seat while these twisted ‘faerie folk’ try to take the child is quite effective... the film then starts to ramp up the action including a couple of chase sequences and a house under siege section which, frankly, is where things start to go wrong. Like the director’s later film, The Nun (reviewed here), the subtlety of the horror is let go and everything is shown. Sometimes that can be quite successful, such as in The Nun, which kind of gives it an old Hammer Horror vibe but, while The Hallow might have done the same, I feel the director hasn’t followed one of the oldest and wisest unwritten commandments of the horror film... if the monsters don’t hold up for long periods, make sure they are underlit and don’t show them for long. Sadly, the creatures here look great when they are a half glimpsed presence but, when they are brought fully into the light, so to speak, for sustained horror action sequences... well, the fright is gone and I kind of stopped caring at that point.

Having said that, there’s still a lot to like about The Hallow. There’s a particularly suspenseful moment when Adam is looking through the spyhole in his front door. Now, whenever anybody looks through their front door spyhole in a movie I get anxious and, of course, Dario Argento really played out that fear in a celebrated sequence in Opera... here though, yeah, something nasty and graphic happens which also brings with it an element of Cronenbergian body horror to the last third of the movie...although again I wasn’t fully sold on in terms of the effectiveness of that element and how it manifests in one of the characters.

Another thing to like, asides from the marvellous acting of the two main leads and a nice little cameo from Michael Smiley as a local policeman, is the cinematography and frame design on the film. One particularly impressive shot comes in a kind of downtime moment in the siege sequence. The baby has been locked in a cupboard and Clare is sitting outside by the cupboard door. The way the shot is composed of shapes and vertical blocks is fantastic. The shot is roughly split into fifths with the out of focus head of Adam in the left two fifths of the screen with a half a wall behind him leading into an opening to the next room. On the rest of the screen we can see: a second doorway and a curtain taking out a large slice of the right two fifths of the screen. In the middle slice, in clear focus, is three quarters of Clare in long shot at the centre of the frame, at odds with the scale of Adam’s soft focus head to her immediate left in the room in the foreground, which adds loads of depth to the screen. It’s a nice moment of beauty before another chase element of the film kicks in and ramps things up. A lot of the last third of the movie is given a much speedier and chaotic feel with the use of shorter shots and hand held camera jerkiness so, that specific shot as a counter to the surrounding sequences gives a nice moment of respite.

And that’s pretty much all I’ve got in me for The Hallow. James Gosling’s score (sadly unavailable on CD) is appropriate to the subject and peps things up when required... you have good acting, some nice shot design but, ultimately I feel, a lot less of a scary movie than it might have been. Still, not a bad one to watch of an evening and I don’t think many fans of supernatural folk horror would be disappointed with this one. A good effort and much appreciated, I think.

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