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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Hallow movie review: misses the forest for the trees

The Hallow yellow light

Nothing but atmosphere, albeit atmosphere that is more effective and elegant than the typical horror flick. But there’s almost no actual story here.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If you’re playing the discouraging game of keeping track of all the male filmmakers who get handed the keys to big-budget films on the slimmest of recommendations (while experienced female filmmakers don’t get hired at all), here’s another name to add to the list: Corin Hardy. He was hired to direct a reboot of The Crow before The Hallow, his very first feature film, had even debuted at Sundance this past year. (Hardy had previously directed only a single short and some music videos.) Hardy has been “acclaimed” as a “visual stylist” — according to the press notes for The Hallow — and if visual style is all you need from a movie, The Hallow will certainly make you happy: it’s nothing but atmosphere, albeit atmosphere that is more effective and elegant than the typical horror flick. But there’s almost no actual story here, which may be fine in a music video but is generally considered a requirement in a genre flick intended to be engaging entertainment and not an art installation.

(I’d said this doesn’t bode well for The Crow, but Hollywood’s insistence on rebooting and remaking bodes even worse.)

Adam (Joseph Mawle: Half of a Yellow Sun, The Cold Light of Day) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic: The Little Death, Charlie’s Country) have just moved from London to the most remote of Irish woodland, for his work: he’s some sort of conservationist for a logging company, apparently, but we never learn anything about his attitudes about environmentalism or preserving the natural world, whether he actually enjoys the forest or just sees a paycheck in it. And this should be pretty darn key, since the movie is all about the forest fighting back to protect itself: the locals, it turns out, ain’t superstitious but just plain realistic about the aggressive supernatural creatures that live in the woods, fairies and the like. Oh, and they steal babies, too. Did I mention that Adam and Clare have an infant? They have an infant. Though not for long, maybe…?

Hardy — who wrote the screenplay with Felipe Marino (Madame Bovary) — hasn’t got any interest at all in creating a dialogue, actual or subtextual, between the world of humans and the world of the woods. (Adam should have some sort of relationship with this particular forest — perhaps revulsion, perhaps fascination — because it should be completely unending his notion of what a forest is. But we get nothing.) Hardy is interested only in how it gross and slick it all looks as organic forest goo invades Adam and Clare’s new home, and then invades Adam’s body, and then what happens when they try to escape and end up running around in the woods at night. For all that these are the oldest, most primeval sort of horrors The Hallow is trying to frighten you with, they aren’t ones we’ve seen much of onscreen before, and so there is some fresh and original imagery on offer here. But it’s empty. It’s precisely because the nightmares here have been previously untapped in fantasy horror that the lack of engagement with them beyond funhouse spookery is ultimately so disappointing.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Hallow for its representation of girls and women.


yellow light 2.5 stars

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The Hallow (2015)
US/Can release: Nov 06 2015 (VOD Oct 17 2015)
UK/Ire release: Nov 13 2015

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong horror, threat, gory images)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • RogerBW

    The trailer made this look like a red light for sure, having stripped off what originality there was to see, but I guess that’s the job of trailers. I’m very bored with the same old suburbanised versions of universal fears (“our offspring are in danger”/”our home is invaded”).

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