Imagine Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (either version) being infected with The Fly and The Ruins and the result might look a bit like The Hallow. This grim backwoods-folklore fairy tale is familiar in its setup of a doomed family moving to an unfamiliar place with a local urban legend. Narratively speaking, there isn’t much to it, but for a genre piece on a lean budget, it stands as a nifty future calling card for Irish monster-making-artist-turned-director Corin Hardy (making his feature debut here but already picked to helm the upcoming remake of The Crow). The plot and where it is headed is predictable early on, but if one concentrates on where the film’s strengths lie, it is resourceful and impressively accomplished in its level of mounting dread and technical craftsmanship.
On assignment to get rid of infected trees, conservationist Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle) relocates wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic), their infant son Finn, and pet dog Iggy from London to an isolated millhouse in Ireland. After of a month of the family’s stay, the locals begin to grow weary of Adam’s trespassing through the forest that belongs to the mythic “hallow,” particularly neighbor Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton) who knows from personal experience. While out walking through the nearby forest with his toddler on his back, Adam discovers a deer carcass covered in a black, gooey substance, which he brings home to research under a microscope. After another warning from Colm, the Hitchens family realize they should have listened, as the creatures from the forest begin targeting their bundle of joy.
Written by director Corin Hardy and Felipe Marino, The Hallow might be a little too streamlined for its own good but it at least mixes up a creature-feature story with a little body and possession horror, while staying true to the name of cohesion. The Irish “hallow” mythos of baby-stealing tree faeries, changelings, and banshees also adheres to the cinematic rule of showing-over-telling with the illustrations of a Book of the Dead-ish tomb. Save for a police officer (Michael Smiley, A Field in England) inspecting a broken window in Adam and Clare’s baby’s bedroom window and alerting the couple of the locals’ superstitions in regards to the forest, there are appreciably no characters spouting off exposition willy-nilly.
As parents Adam and Clare, Joseph Mawle (HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Bojana Novakovic (Devil) ground the fantastical horror in a reality and are sympathetic enough with what they have to work with. In what once was a dying art but has luckily made a welcome comeback, the practical effects are the real stars of the show — with a little CGI used only for mere enhancement. John Nolan’s work on the hallow’s grotesqueries somewhat remind of Guillermo del Toro’s creations but also seem like a loving ode to handcrafted creature effects by Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith, and Stan Winston (who actually get a dedication in the closing credits). Martijn van Broekhuizen’s cinematography carries a whole lot of atmosphere with the in-location shooting in Ireland, and the film also breeds an effectively icky sound design.
Being a cautionary tale about deforestation, The Hallow doubles as a horror-tinged allegory about the monstrous struggles of parenting and keeping a child alive. As a pure scare picture of the literal monster variety, it has a couple of jolts, one involving a tense attack on Clare in the attic, and goopy scenes involving a parasitic black fungus and the human eye are quite squirm-inducing, but director Corin Hardy really excels in building a measured sense of impending doom before unleashing his woodsy beasties. If the film spins its wheels a tad in the middle, The Hallow is still moody and sinister where it counts.
The Hallow is now available on VOD