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.
96 minutes (See IFCO for details)
The Hallow is released 13th November 2015