The forest is a reli­able source of anx­i­ety for the hor­ror film, par­tic­u­lar­ly as soci­ety grows more urban and less rural.  The Hallow is a recent entry into the forest-set hor­ror sub­gen­re, a favorite of the fes­ti­val cir­cuit that won good notices for effec­tive shock tac­tics and a more hand­craft­ed approach to spe­cial effects than is cur­rent­ly pop­u­lar.  The results live up to both of those claims, even if it feels more like a gen­re exer­cise rather than a new Hallow-bluhor­ror clas­sic.

The plot of The Hallow is as straight­for­ward as it gets: Adam (Joseph Mawle) is a for­mer con­ser­va­tion­ist who goes to a rural Irish vil­lage to exam­ine trees in the local forest before a log­ging com­pa­ny moves in.  He’s also got his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and infant child in tow.  They’re not pop­u­lar with the locals because of Adam’s job and think some of the locals, name­ly the irate Colm (Michael McElhatton) might be try­ing to force them out.  However, the real threat lies in an ancient leg­end about mag­i­cal wood­land beings that can do ter­ri­ble things to pro­tect their home.

The Hallow was made by peo­ple who love hor­ror films — it’s ded­i­cat­ed to the likes of Ray Harryhausen and Stan Winston — and it goes all out to impress the hor­ror crowd.  It wastes lit­tle time in build­ing up sus­pense and quick­ly explodes into an array of FX-dri­ven set­pieces involv­ing malev­o­lent scrub brush, forest beast­ies and even a bit of body hor­ror.

Unfortunately, the script prop­ping up all the shocks is a lit­tle under­cooked.  The Hallow sets up a lot of inter­est­ing mate­ri­al in its first act — the idea that Adam might have betrayed his con­ser­va­tion­al­ist ide­als, hints of dis­cord in Adam and Clare’s mar­riage, the folk roots of the film’s mon­sters — but this is quick­ly thrown aside once the thrills get rolling.  Mawle and Novakovic bring a nice inten­si­ty to their work as Hardy puts them through Hallow-01their paces but they just don’t have much to work with.  Thus, it’s hard to get too invest­ed in their plight when the film treats them like a pair of pawns to be shuf­fled around the chess board.

That said, if you can look at The Hallow pure­ly as a gen­re exer­cise, it gets the job done. Director/co-writer Corin Hardy digs into the sus­pense and the effects with vig­or, milk­ing them for all their worth and down­play­ing CGI in favor of pros­thet­ics and phys­i­cal effects.  He nev­er fails to exploit a sit­u­a­tion for its max­i­mum sus­pense poten­tial and is care­ful to set the shocks in a vari­ety of locales — the woods, sev­er­al sieges on the house, in the car, etc.  He shows a knack for effects-dri­ven hor­ror that sug­gests he could do some­thing spe­cial in the future. Hopefully, he’ll give the script as much atten­tion as the stag­ing next time out.

Blu-Ray: Scream Factory just released this title to blu-ray as part of their part­ner­ship with IFC Midnight.  The trans­fer offers a slick rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s dig­i­tal cin­e­matog­ra­phy and the loss­less 5.1 stereo sound­track offers an appro­pri­ate­ly envelop­ing sound­scape that deliv­ers punchy sur­round effects at key moments.Hallow-02

This disc also has a spe­cial edition’s worth of extras. Hardy does a solo com­men­tary track in which he dis­cuss­es every­thing from sto­ry con­cepts to per­for­mance to spe­cial effects.  It gets more tech­ni­cal as the film becomes more FX-ori­ent­ed.  “Surviving The Fairytale” (50:49) is an involved mak­ing-of doc­u­men­tary fea­tur­ing inter­views with Hardy, the cast and key crew mem­bers as well as a wealth of behind-the-sce­nes footage.  It’s key the­me seems to be Hardy’s desire to make a hor­ror film as real as pos­si­ble, from per­for­mance to loca­tion to visu­al effects.

There are also three “behind the sce­nes” pieces, all rang­ing from two to three min­utes, that are basi­cal­ly extend­ed sce­nes from the mak­ing-of piece.  Each has its own focus: the sto­ry, influ­ences and prac­ti­cal effects.  Elsewhere, you get four ani­mat­ed image gal­leries, all in the one to three min­ute range and each with its own speci­fic con­tent: sto­ry­boards, illus­tra­tions from the film’s “Book Of Invasions,” director’s sketch­book and crea­ture con­cepts.  Taken togeth­er, they enhance one’s appre­ci­a­tion for the film’s care­ful visu­al design.  A trail­er is the final inclu­sion.