Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Hallow (2015)

aka The Woods (because there just aren’t enough films called like that)

Warning: spoilers are sometimes inevitable

Biologist (or maybe botanist, or conservationist?) Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle), his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son Finn have moved into an old house in the woods somewhere in Ireland to evaluate which parts of the local forest are ripe for milling. The locals, particularly the family’s nearest neighbour Doyle (Gary Lydon), aren’t too happy with that, though not for ecological reasons but because they fear the revenge of the “Hallow”, the faerie population supposedly dwelling (and being unpleasant) in the area.

None of the grown-up Hitchens’ gives much about the vague superstitious murmuring around them, of course, which, given their improbability and vagueness does not come as much of a surprise.

Alas, even though they are interpreting things through a distorted lens, the villagers aren’t wrong; things are very much stalking the woods, and they are acting according to the traditional legends, if not for the reasons those legends would give. Given the child-stealing tendencies of the Good Folk that’s not good news for a family with a baby.

The first seventy minutes or so of Corin Hardy’s The Hallow are quite a wonderful achievement. The film cleverly updates classic faerie lore with a bit of body horror, providing a somewhat scientific explanation for it while still keeping most of the lore applicable and true. So, the non-scientific legends aren’t so much superstitions here as the result of people observing actual (horrifying) phenomena they can’t quite explain correctly because they lack the proper frame work for it, while on the other hand the scientific side discards these observations with their and because of their wrong explanations. This approach can’t help but remind one of Nigel Kneale, though Hardy doesn’t think things quite as far as Kneale would have.

Hardy presents this not in a dry and distant approach but as a tight creature feature with all the eye-mutilating ickiness you’ll hope for in a film that explains faeries via a fungal infection that leaves much room for body horror. Hardy makes good use of these body horror elements too, yet never falls into the trap of only banking on physically unpleasant transformations as the be all and end all of his film. Hardy’s a much too controlled director for that, instead using many a classic creature feature strategy to creep out his audience. There’s an intensity and a focus to the direction that looks very special to my eyes, the sort of directing approach that isn’t afraid of just cutting out the uneventful middle of the style of film he’s working in, going from the set-up directly to a series of climaxes without the film seeming to miss anything important.

The creatures (and babies) here are mostly based on practical effects (with a bit of digital help), demonstrating ably that this particular art still hasn’t died out, and giving the creatures a physicality and presence CGI (particularly on a budget) can’t always achieve without any visible drawbacks.

Having said all this, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by The Hallow’s final climax (the final finale?), because it’s much too conventional for a film that has put this much energy and inventiveness into updating its monsters and changing its expected structure. So, we get a film that ends with the infected main character saving the life of his child because he can desperately cling to his humanity thanks to the power of baby love, followed by the film eschewing a possible and much more horrible final sting for one so been-there-done-that it left me in utter disbelief a film with this much clever stuff going on in it felt the need to go for a horror movie bullshit ending nobody will feel anything about instead of something actually disquieting and tragic that itself suggested so clearly before.

Of course, this does not turn The Hallow into a film not worth watching. For my taste, it however did turn a potential classic into a very good movie that just misses the final kick and falls back on highly competently realized conventionalities it should be too good for.

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