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 horror 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 their 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.
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.