Irish Film Review: The Hallow

1221287_The Hallow

 

DIR: Corin Hardy • WRI: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Nick Emerson • DOP: Martijn van Broekhuizen • DES: Alex Cameron, Mags Linnane • MUS: James Gosling • CAST: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton

Me folking nerves! The woods are lovely, dark and deep in Corin Hardy’s multi sub-genre horror The Hallow. The film tries to be so many things and even though it doesn’t transcend the genre on a universal level, it highlights the sheer excitement and vibrancy of a director about to transcend from the independents unto the big leagues. Hardy shows an uncensored and unabashed love for the horror genre and it shows in his work. The Hallow begins as a traditional British folk-horror that relies on atmosphere – rising mist, full moons, thunder and strange neighbours, evolves into a monster movie in the second act, and by the time we reach the third it has become somewhat of a hippy horror, an allegory for environmental issues.

Our protagonists are tree doctor, Adam, and his wife Claire, who, with their infant son Finn, have migrated from the streets of London to the mosses of rural Ireland. The big lumber corporations are back at it again and have their minds set on tearing down these Irish evergreen woods. Adam and his family have been located to the outskirts of the woods so he can survey the forest. Naturally, like there always is in these types of movies, there’s a unwelcoming tension between the young new family and the dreary locals, who warn Adam and Claire about the hallowed grounds and to steer clear. Right on cue, these sophisticated, pot-smoking, city shhlickers laugh off these dreaded warnings as backwards thinking.

Something a wry comes along their way when Adam finds a gruesome corpse of a deer in the forest. A treacle, tar-black goo oozes from the animal’s rotting carcass, which Adam snatches and takes back to the house to examine. He discovers the goo is ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as ‘zombie fungus’, which infects the brains of ants, controls them, morphing them abnormally before death. In other words, one helluva Friday night. So Hardy lays down the science for the audience, foreshadowing Jack Torrance behavior, while simultaneously conveying for us, through the town’s people’s superstitions, a sense of supernatural horror that haunts the woods.

We don’t know whether to turn to the science or the mythical folklore. Luckily, we don’t have to choose, because Hardy, so hopped up on excitement, blends the two together, raising the stakes and conflict for the family. We are introduced to the monster so soon and as soon as we do The Hallow departs the slow rising tension of folk horror and goes head first into a relentless siege from the second act on. Along the way, those bastard forest creatures have shot Adam in the eye with the “zombie fungus”. Shit! The energy of terror doesn’t run out of steam as Adam and Claire try everything in their power to defend themselves and protect baby Finn.

A mother’s primal instinct comes into play in the best sequence of the film, when Adam goes to fix the generator and Claire is left in the attic with Finn. A creature’s pointy hand smashes through the attic door and Claire puts all her strength into holding back the beast. The suspense rises as the sharp slimy finger gets closer and closer to Claire’s eyeball as the camera gets closer and closer, giving us an extreme close-up before the attic lights up to save the day. (nice homage to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2). As Adam’s infection gets worse throughout the gruelling siege, our alliance turns to Claire, who must fight the monster on the outside and the inside in order to protect Finn.

The Hallow is full to the brim with sub-genre tropes and cult horror throwbacks, so much so that it’s a miracle that it actually works. Hardy might be indulgent in his fanboyism, but he has the technical and visual skill to back it up. He also backed himself up with a great team – co-screenwriter Felipe Marino, John Nolan on animatronics and strong performances by Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovik. But it’s Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s rich cinematography that helps make the woods a character, balancing foreboding with natural beauty. The picture of nature is so clear you can almost smell the grass, crack the bark and feel the dew.

It’s an impressive debut feature and will be interesting to see Corin Hardy’s elevation from the indie to the mainstream. The closing shot begs for a sequel, where nature reaps havoc on mankind in the an urban environment. (Suggested title: Night of the Living Christmas Trees). But before Hardy steals my title, he’ll be directing Relativity Media’s remake of The Crow, transcending to franchise territory. Let’s hope he makes sure the actors use blanks this time round. With the right people behind him, Hardy’s career in the horror could be an evergreen.

 

Cormac O’Meara

16
96 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hallow is released 13th November 2015

The Hallow – Official Website

 

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Interview: Corin Hardy, director of ‘The Hallow’

the-hallow

Cormac O’Meara talks to director Corin Hardy about his horror feature The Hallow, which opens in cinemas this weekend. A family move into a remote millhouse in Ireland and find themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.

Your film is very multi-layered with a mix of sub-genre tropes. One minute it’s folklore that transcends into a monster movie and then body horror. I was wondering, while you were making it, were you ever worried that you were trying to do too much?

It certainly wasn’t my intention to do too much! I wasn’t trying to cover all those sub-genres so much as keep the story evolving and keep people on their toes. When you do a movie like this, without giving too much away, when it gets to the point when the humans encounter the creatures you can’t just stop there and just have them battle it out. It would have been quite repetitive. So I wanted to take the story forward in ways that were driven by ideas in folklore and mythology and blend them into reality. That sort of dictated how the story  progressed.

You are from Sussex in England yourself – what attracted you to Irish folklore?

I grew up reading fairytales and looking at picture books. When I had this idea of doing a fairytale grounded in in reality I researched folklore from all around the world to begin with. But I gravitated towards Ireland as a potent hub for mythology. Also it was close to me in the UK. I think it worked for this idea of a couple from London needing to travel somewhere in order to feel like they were foreigners to some extent, so I didn’t want to go up to Scotland or go down to Cornwall, which are the other two main areas where this type of mythology exists.

For me, there is an environmentalist subtext in the film – the fact that they are evil creatures is a kind of metaphor for nature’s revenge upon society.

I didn’t want to make a movie with a message rammed in your face, but yes that’s true. If you look right back to the origin of fairy myth it seems to come down to a race that existed in Ireland and was driven away. I like this idea that the creatures were driven into the forests and became kind of nature itself and that this is some sort of reaction to what man did. It ties in, in a contemporary way, with what we have done to our planet. What our human decisions have resulted in.

The film conveys a great sense of atmosphere captured by Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s cinematography.

He is a fantastic Dutch DoP that I’d heard great stuff about from everyone who had worked with him. I felt his Dutch movies, in particular, were very painterly and the incredible way he works with light. It was important for me to create the most beautiful atmospheric horror movie we could, so we worked closely together trying to create something fairytale-like but real, something cinematic, ultimately, that had a rich and colourful quality to it. 

It was great to see practical effects being used for the creatures without an over reliance on CGI. Do you think that is becoming a problem in cinema, and not just horror and cinema as a whole.

I certainly think you can have too much CGI and you don’t feel anything necessarily. You can have incredible action sequences and incredible effects but they don’t connect to your soul because you can’t feel that they are real. I like to mix techniques. It’s not a case of everything practical. We try to do as much in camera as we could with make-up effects, animatronics, puppetry and real locations but there is a number of visual effects and CGI. I think the best way of executing this kind of illusion is to mix techniques together. It’s not a case of doing it all practically or all CGI, it’s a mixture.

Am I right in saying that originally you wanted to shoot on film but because of the budget it just wasn’t an option.

When you have a budget – and I think no matter what the budget is it’s probably never enough – you have to do the breakdowns, scheduling, timing, etc., It’s not really a case of it’s just too expensive to shoot on film. It’s more that when you look at the whole budget and you break it down into all these areas, particularly if I needed to make sure that we could pull of these effects – we had to make sure that we had enough to do the practical and visual effects. When it came down to it, I really wanted to shoot on film. I’m a massive devotee and fan of celluloid but it was a matter of you can shoot on film but then you’ll have to lose five days shooting. Well I needed those five days! You have to weigh it up. 

The Hallow opens in cinemas Friday, 13th November 2015 

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