I’m always ready for a new, homegrown talent breaking into the horror genre – be it Clive Barker with Hellraiser, Neil Marshall with Dog Soldiers or, most recently, Rose Glass with the impressive Saint Maud. It’s fascinating to support their debuts and then watch to see how their careers blossom from here on out almost like a proud parent who’s insanely proud of their kid by scaring the shit out of them…
So back in 2015, my hopes were high for The Hallow, a more somber frightener that dealt with the creepy creatures that languish in the gloomy depths of an Irish forest so intimidating, even The Evil Dead would consider relocating to a sunnier climate. A confident calling card of director Corin Hardy, it’s been a fair shame that he’s arguably been unable to capitalize on his nifty debut thanks to being trapped in development hell for years thanks to the oft-stalled remake of The Crow and thus his more noticable credits since have been Conjuring spinoff The Nun (fine) and some episodes of Gareth Evans superb TV epic, Gangs Of London. It’s a shame as The Hallow has all the hallmarks of a genre director who, if given the right push could worm his way into crafting a genuine classic much in the same vein as Marshall’s The Descent.
Claire and Adam Hitchens has moved to a remote house near and Irish forest so dense, you could almost cut the unbearably thick atmosphere with a butter knife. The reason the Hitchens’ and their newborn baby have upped and moved to an area that looks like the Swamp Thing’s bachelor pad is Adam’s job as a conservationist that specialises in plant and fungal life, something that puts the family at odds with the various stern-faced men from the local village. While Claire tries to get the house livable for them (might wanna leave those iron bars on the windows up there, Claire), Adam discovers a strange fungus growing on a ruined animal carcass and in true horror fashion, pokes it with a stick. Soon sinister things start to happen like someone breaking the window in the baby’s room or an unseen assailant shoving Adam into the boot of his own car and the stressed couple chalk it up to the ever more aggressive efforts of neighbours who just don’t want them there.
However, theybsoon find out the hard way that the fungus and the escalating acts of aggression are coming from deep inside the woods by twiggy creatures thought to be fairies, banshees or things that are obsessed with snatching babies and raising them into twisted being like themselves in some horrific form of daycare run by elemental tree monsters… As Adam and Claire first try to flee and then try to hole up back at their house and wait for daylight as these baby-snatching bastards lay siege in the woods outside, Adam gets a first hand experience at what that creepy fungus is for when he’s stung in the eye by one of the critters. As the invading organism mutates his flesh and invades his mind, his parental and husband instincts have to work overtime in order for him not to become a hapless meat puppet; but this may prove to be tougher than it sounds, especially considering that his relationship with his wife has been incredibly strained since their baby was born….
As a debut, Hardy’s The Hallow is hardly startlingly original and yet the filmmaker pumps his first feature full of enough atmosphere to terraform Mars which ends up making the movie somewhat of a minor triumph. Hardly as earth shattering a debut as Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Night Of The Living Dead, the film is still jumpy enough to hopefully satisfy the more jaded in the audience while being creepy enough for those desiring a more subtler affair – and while it’s hardly perfect (more on that in a sec) it was one of the best horror flicks to come out from Britain in ages.
So… Let’s get the unhappy stuff out of way first. The first third of the movie, if I’m being honest, is a little bit of a chore. As we’re being introduced to the young couple who are no doubt about to have their lives disrupted by much more than a three a.m. baby feeding, it becomes quickly apparent that they aren’t that interesting, in fact, they actually seem stupid, stuck up, snobby and cold, not only to the hostile townsfolk, but to each other as well. This is obviously supposed to signify a young marrage in decline due to a child coming into their lives, but as we never really get an idea if how happy the Hitchens actually were before we meet them, it makes them initially fairly hard to root for. Not helping this is husband Adam frequently revealing himself to be a sizeable prick almost from the get go as he takes his infant with him to work deep in the gloomy woods and taking scrapings from a gutted deer carcass while the gurgling baby hangs not two feet from it in a papoose. Again, undeveloped metaphor for parenting or strange scripting?
Thankfully all the coldness of the leads finally gives way to some fantastic foreshadowing by a guesting Michael Smilely as an unhelpful policeman and then finally the shadowy things lurking in the undergrowth rear their heads to get some screen time.
The remaining run time is then taken up with the couple desperately trying to protect their son from waves of attacks from these territorial, gnarled, tree-like “farie folk” whose ferocity mirror the Crawlers from The Decent or the vampires from 30 Days Of Night. It’s exhilarating stuff, admittedly slight on plot but high on pulse pounding incident. The leads, so clumsy at the start, hit their stride in the throes of terror and finally stir our sympathies as they attempt to wade through such dire straits.
Hardy, despite the earlier wobbles, slams things into forth gear and shows quite an expert instinct for this kind of thing, displaying enough smarts to not have his awesomely practical, bark-skinned creatures prance around in unscary CGI and throwing in some impressive horror images such as a fungus ravaged, battle-damaged Adam wielding a fucking flaming sythe, for iconic effect. Plus, the final act twist of there being two babies for the couple to pick from with one being real and the other being a doppelganger gives the finale a real edge of the seat feel which Hardy plays perfectly.
While other films such as The Babadook did parenting as horror far better, The Hallow proved in 2915 to be, quite possibly, the best British horror movie since Neil Marshall’s The Decent. And here’s hoping it’s helmer finally gets the chance at putting more horrors on the big screen as memorable as this one proved to be.
Because this one is wonderfully Harrow-ing…