Review: THE HALLOW (2015) – by Chris Barnes

Adam (Joseph Mawle) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic) relocate to a mill house in remote Irish woodland with their baby in tow. Despite being warned by ominous neighbour, Colm (Michael McElhatton), that their presence there makes them a target for fabled phantoms that dwell in the woods, Adam’s job as a ‘tree doctor’ requires the study of said timbers and subsequently the tar-like gunge he discovers on/in a deer carcass. Taking the sludge home for further investigation, Adam soon realises it’s a malignant fungus that represents a demonic play for their newborn son.

I’ve got to be completely honest from the start here, folks, even before The Hallow’s first bewitching image flickered onscreen, it was nigh on impossible not to expect something special from director Corin Hardy. If the ever-changing rumours are to be believed, he’s been confirmed as the man with the controversial task of rebooting Alex Proyas’ cult gothic classic The Crow – an assignment which would weigh heavily on the most experienced of shoulders. It’s a huge job, and one which will no doubt have the doubters sharpening their talons in anticipation.

Rightly or wrongly, with this in mind, and being a Crow purist myself, I shamefully went against every moral message I’d arrogantly hammer home to other potential viewers and watched his debut feature from a slightly skewed viewpoint. “But this isn’t about The Crow!” I hear you just and righteous people exclaim. “It’s not even a similar project from which to gather any cinematic clues!” you correctly add. But fuck it, I did anyway. So, unfair odds stacked against it from the outset, I must doff my cap to Corin and his talented crew, because The Hallow (for the most part) left me quietly excited to see his take on James O’Barr’s beautifully macabre tale.

The Hallow begins well, establishing itself as a tense and atmospheric low-budget horror, with its beautifully foreboding backdrop rousing immediate unease. From beginning to end it’s nothing less than stunning to the eye – its wholesome lighting a joy to behold and the setting eerily breathtaking – but vague characters and signposted set pieces hold this smart creature feature back when it could’ve been reaching for the highest branch.

James Gosling’s creepy score and Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s camera work intensify the Hitchens family’s trauma, isolated from civilisation and rejected by everyone (except good ol’ Michael Smiley!), and the effortlessly strong cast thankfully have enough about them to deliver the increasingly sparse script, particularly as the film enters its final straight and the beasts become more prominent. Unfortunately, once the very impressive monsters arrive, the tension departs as hurriedly as the stricken kin, which is a shame because Adam’s rapidly deteriorating mental state – and morbid mutation – could’ve added an extra layer of suspense if played to its full potential.

That said, every one of the 97 minutes is essentially an ode to classics gone by and Hardy’s talent is as plain as the goo on baby Finn’s pastel-coloured bedsheets. He presides over an expertly blended mix of practical effects and subtle CGI confidently and combines them with a clever set design, creating a vivid platform for our fiendish beasts to weave their gnarled and knotted nightmares upon. Generous, respectful nods to The Evil Dead and The Thing, to name but a couple, add flesh to the project’s bones, but it’s much more than a mere homage. Statements abound that The Hallow is a “game changer” (a term I’ve come to hate) are wide of the mark, but Hardy has skilfully avoided many of the bloopers we usually associate with the majority of attempts within this sub genre, whilst simultaneously adding a few boxes of his own that future filmmakers should be aiming to tick.

Visually, Hardy leaves me in no doubt that his mental picture of Eric Draven’s world will be a spellbinding one, and providing he can steer clear of similar clichéd second-half missteps and stick as close to the brilliantly hypnotic graphic novel as possible, I look forward to seeing what comes next. A phrase I was terrified to tolerate until The Hallow had cast its magical spell.

Chris Barnes (@TheBlueTook)