Corin Hardy’s debut feature The Hallow is a refreshing creature-feature feeding off the folklore of Ireland. The film follows a British conservationist (Joseph Mawle), his wife (Bojana Novakovik), and their infant child who find themselves caught up in a nightmare after moving dangerously close to an ancient forest.Hardy’s story is a family drama torn between the Gothic fairy tale vibes of Guillermo del Toro and the creature feature beats of The Thing. There’s a lot of heart and soul in the film, to a point that may be too mushy for the pace, but the film does in the end feel like a well-balanced slice of fun. Mama and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark fluffed their spooks through blatant overexposure and jarring switch in tones (not to mention lame scripting), The Hallow achieves more with less, giving in often to its innate value entertainment (monster slaying and body horror) to ensure we’re still gripped by the final scenes. Much of this is down to the great pairing of Mawle and Novakovk but also the way Hardy constructs his threat.
Robin Hardy’s The Wickerman paints Scotland as a religious country haunted by its pagan origins. The Hallow renders Ireland as a place still populated with folk creatures that predate paganism. Though the film does not do for Ireland what the other Hardy’s film did for Scotland, it certainly makes a good go of it. The creature design, set dressing, location shooting, and visual effects are all spot-on. The film often reveals the capacity for gorgeous gothic weirdness; that kind of Del Toro vibe that owes something to Arthur Machen, a really ancient kind of horror translated here into a horrifying infection. Hardy has a superb eye for classic horror imagery, both chilling and beautiful, combining nature and the arcane beautifully.
There’s lots of great influences here, and Hardy’s stress on practical effects (he sought out Hellboy 2: The Golden Army effects maestro John Noble) makes this a refreshing contemporary creature feature. Some of the make-up jobs and animatronics fit in so perfectly with the film’s style that they really can catch you off guard. Other times, the creatures can be overexposed and underwhelming, unfortunately never as ominous as they are earlier in the film. As the film progresses it becomes clear that Hardy’s film is almost a standard cabin in the woods film, in the style of Evil Dead, dressed up lovingly with decent mythology. Though by its ending the creatures have perhaps lost their edge, there’s enough here to keep it a fun adventure into refreshing monster territory.
Hardy’s debut is atmospheric as Hell: setting and the tone are not really the issue. The speed with which Hardy shifts his focus from scene-setting to pace-cranking in the final act will alienate some viewers.
Dir: Corin Hardy
Stars: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovik, Michael Smiley