The Hallow opens with a radio broadcast about shrinking forests, our hero kicks off the plot by marking trees to be chopped down and laid over the top of the credits is footage of chainsaw wielding lumberjacks mercilessly picking over bare stumps. I’m detecting a distinct anti-logging message. Thing is, The Hallow eventually posits that this forest is home to terrifying killer fungus monsters and after the finale, I was firmly on the side of the loggers: they should burn the trees down and salt the ground so nothing will ever grow here again.
Set on a remote Irish island, we follow a young London family searching for rural peace and quiet. Dad Adam (Joseph Mawle) is a forestry scientist who’s posted to this remote location to prepare it for de-forestation. He brings along his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic) and their newborn baby; who are slowly adapting to living in a creepy dilapidated millhouse bang in the middle of nowhere.
All too soon though things get eerie. The window of their baby’s room is smashed and something has been inside the house. Local Garda (Michael Smiley) unconvincingly assures the couple that it was probably a drunken bird, while simultaneously dropping ominous mentions of fairy-folk and ancient superstitions. When the walls begin oozing black sludge, the drunken bird theory begins to look a little iffy. Soon the family is under siege from the killer monsters, set on snatching their baby as the latest addition to their demonic family
With its vaguely Evil Dead-ish premise and slavish adherence to genre conventions, The Hallow doesn’t exactly rewrite the horror rulebook. But this is horror done right: though the narrative and aesthetic beats are familiar, the execution is impressive and creative. A decent portion of that success is down to the excellent monsters. I’m not going to spoil much, but they prove to be a smartly pitched cocktail of science and folklore, weaving virus-like body horror elements and ancient Irish fairytales into something new and exciting.
Director Corin Hardy makes sure to tease us with brief glimpses of them, chalking up a handful of genuinely frightening scares as their eyes glow in the dark and they rapidly flit between the trees or are illuminated by the flash of a camera. When we finally do get a good look at them in the climactic scenes, they don’t disappoint. Combining animatronics and prosthetics (with minor CGI enhancement), these are monsters of Guillermo del Toro-esque finesse and believability.
Underpinning them are a fine pair of performances from Mawle and Novakovic. Neither is going to trouble the Academy this year, but they’re individually believable and have authentic chemistry with each other. In the pre-terrified scenes, they lounge around listening to Reggae, smoke a joint and cook dinner; their interactions relaxed and casually intimate. Later, once the running and screaming have begun in earnest, they remain plausible, their relationship and personalities surviving assault by nightmare boogeymen.
In the scarier moments, you detect that Hardy has been taking careful notes from Craven, Carpenter, Raimi et al. It’s paid off; even as a seasoned horror watcher there were sequences that had my heart pounding with fear. In accentuating the movements of the trees, careful lighting choices and some wonderfully evocative sound effects (the most memorable being the *fweeeeee* of a charging flashbulb), Hardy achieves genuine suspense, having the discipline to limit his use of jump scares to just a handful of occasions.
The Hallow is a damn fine horror movie. So many contemporary horror directors screw things up with too much CGI, reliance on loud things going “BOO” and poor characterization. Not so here: Hardy serving up a marvellous creature design, a tightly focussed script, great location shooting and a rock-solid classical horror sensibility that pays off gangbusters. It feels like a future cult classic – see it and tell your friends about it.
The Hallow is top flight cult horror that nips at Guillermo Del Toro’s heels while offering a thrilling ride for audiences.