★★★★☆ – Combining all the best aspects of the horror genre into one tense creature flick, The Hallow sets a new standard for spooky stories to live up to.
“Things go bump in the dark here.”
Corin Hardy’s debut movie oozes with clever direction, originality and a lot of black goo. Set in the Irish countryside, we follow Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle), his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son Fin as they settle into a newly purchased house next to the woods; renovating, exploring and enjoying each others company in happy harmony (bar some disgruntled locals that don’t take kindly to strangers). Of course, this doesn’t last long – a warning comes to those that ‘trespass’ in the woods – creatures dwell there that will ‘trespass you’ right back if you meddle in their homeland. With Adam’s job as a tree surgeon not really allowing for an aversion to the forest, and his dismissive mindset taking the forefront on the manner; he continues his research and general probing of the seemingly idyllic landscape.
If you’ve ever watched a horror film in your life, you’ll know that this poking about doesn’t go unpunished. The film’s plot centres around the vengeful ‘Hallow’, supernatural creatures set on tormenting the quaint Hitchen family – masterfully created out of mostly practical effects rather than often atmosphere-killing computerised beasties. With vibes from The Thing, Splinter and Evil Dead all materialising as the film progresses; its clear to see that Hardy’s creation is a step towards revitalising creature-features with a bite – offering the perfect balance of monster visuals and creepy noises in the night.
The immense attention to detail within the genre is something to behold in itself, with the director paying special attention to every moment he could have dropped an average jump-scare in; and instead expertly adjusting the timings and our expectations to create a new level of fear. This craftsmanship is not only seen with the expert unwinding of the plot, but with the sound also – as with films such as Sinister, sound and soundtrack is manipulated heavily to create truly otherworldly cries from the darkness.
The Hallow’s imminent closing in on the family throughout the film is often foreshadowed or accompanied by terrible, chilling screeches – it sounds like the norm for a monster flick, but creating sound effects that really do send tingles down your spine is difficult, and should definitely be acknowledged on this level. With this in mind, there has to be honourable mentions for the lovable family dog and baby Fin’s contributions as well. The realist element of fear within these two innocent characters and their heartbreaking cries further the tension to breaking point; we realise there is a lot more at stake than just the couple’s lives.
The clear use of light and dark is not a new element to a horror film – but another classic technique revitalised by Hardy throughout the entirety of The Hallow. Like his resurrection of a heavily cliched plot, he breathes new life into the conflict and light and dark in interesting ways – the camera flash being a borrowed, but effective tension builder throughout the movie. Each blast of light reveals something untoward lurking in the darkness – or even scarier yet, nothing at all – disorientating with its brightness against the gloomy black of the setting. This rekindling of classic devices can also be said for the use of the book – a ‘fairy tale’ introduction to the ways of the Hallow and the legend surrounding them; giving Adam some form of knowledge (and therefore, defence) against his unknown enemy in an abundance of creepy sketches and prophetic passages.
However, even with all of these great elements thrown and re-imagined into one pot – there is still room for improvement. The intensely real practical effects, successful return of ‘ignorant family attacked by supernatural entities’ trope and permeating dark atmosphere are enough to let most problems slide – though that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. For example, the beginning is fast and choppy – there isn’t a lot of context or introductory elements before we are thrown into the film; though it can be argued that it is a product of its genre and the focus should be held on the night terrors that are central to its appeal rather than risking too much on needless background information.
This perhaps explains the feeling that the characters are a little underdeveloped, simply playing out as their set stereotypes from beginning to end. There are times when it could be said that it goes slightly too far also – we see a lot of the Hallow throughout the film, which is a risky business when it comes to spooky night monsters – and it could be said that this desensitizes us to their horrifying nature. Whilst seeing is believing, leaving a little to the imagination can sometimes be a lot more rewarding – especially with horror. Again this is a point with a counter argument – if the Hallow weren’t so visible and visual, it would fall a lot flatter against other successful ‘invisible enemy’ films.
Finding problems with the film definitely feels like clutching at straws however – as it is in essence a masterful rework of old and tiresome fragments of the genre into something new and exciting once more; a reminiscent display of what monster based horror films used to be in their prime. With an original creature creation, wonderfully pieced together timeline and some particularly gripping and unique scenes, The Hallow is everything that a Halloween release should be; even if it is coming a little late to the party. True fans of horror should endeavor to see this in cinemas for the full effect asap – but be warned, you’ll never want to set foot in the countryside again.
The Hallow (2015), directed by Corin Hardy, is released in the UK by Entertainment One. Certificate 15.
This article was originally posted to The Edge.