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Hallow, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Something creepier than usual in the Irish wood."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: By way of exposition, there's a bit on the radio early on mentioning that an upcoming deal would make Ireland the only developed country without a national forest, and that just sounds like a bad idea: Anyone who has seen a few horror movies or read some folklore knows that country is so absolutely lousy with sprites of various sorts that there barely sees to be room for people. Don't mess with their habitat, because otherwise something like this initially slow-burning but ultimately intense bit of horror will ensue.

The man being sent to survey this forest is Adam Hitchens (Joseph Hawle); he often takes infant son Finn and their dog Iggy out in the woods while wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) works on the mill house where they've been set up. The locals - naturally, a superstitious bunch - don't like this, with farmer Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), whose daughter vanished into the woods some years ago, the most aggressive. But maybe the greatest danger isn't superstitious neighbors or the Fair Folk, but a fungus along the lines of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that Adam finds attached to creatures rather larger than ants.

Certainly, the latter offers a bunch of things any horror movie can use, from being icky to look at to being able to serve as a springboard for other nasty things. Writer/director Corin Hardy finds ways for this stuff to get everywhere, and it's hard to overstate how effective this stuff is at enhancing a scene's yuck factor. On top of that, of course, it's giving a somewhat less mystical than usual grounding to the traditional battle between humankind and its "progress" and wild nature; this stuff gets everywhere. Not that Hardy's script goes for a complete demystification; the flip side of this battle is that iron (which traditionally burns mystical creatures) is still an extremely useful thing to have around.

So, okay, there's a little bit going on underneath the surface, but what makes The Hallow work is that Hardy is really excellent at cranking the tension to an even higher level despite it already seeming unbearable. After a somewhat leisurely build, things get impressively tense in the movie's second half, with moments that could have been mere jolts and/or reversals instead serving as the basis for mounting tragedy and madness. Hardy and cinematographer Martijn Van Broekhuizen arguably shoot things a little too dark early on, but that pays off big time as things are allowed into focus later on in the film. By the finale, things have grown impressively hardcore, with even the triumphant moments rather upsetting to watch.

Keeping the visuals dark in the early going means that some of the practical effects are kept in the dark until late, which works for the movie but leaves the audience a bit less time to be impressed. It's some great prosthetic make-up that in many cases only hints at leftover humanity, and the stuntpeople underneath do great at moving in a that suggests unearthly creatures. Other bits that aren't so far gone look impressively nasty as well.

The cast is small and tight, too much so to whittle away slasher-style, but the stars make it count. Joseph Mawle brings just the right sort of abrasiveness to Adam that there's something even more fragile than the circumstances dictate about his later attempts at heroism, and he's also great fun to watch as madness threatens to grip him. Bojana Novakovic mostly plays Clare having to react to scary, dangerous stuff, although with just enough practical contrast to Adam's risky curiosity that she never seems to be screaming and running blindly later on. They are close to it for the cast, although Michael McElhatton fits his part of the angry, potentially dangerous neighbor when he shows up and Michael Smiley creates a moment or two of calm as the local constable.

A fair number of horror movies dip into Ireland's rich folklore, and many of those will go along the basic lines of "The Hallow". It's relatively rare to see them do it quite this well, though, getting more tense when they previously seemed to be peaking, with the nasty bits placed in just the right way to keep the audience looking in rather than away. It's a good one that's hopefully the start of big things for Hardy.

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originally posted: 07/17/15 02:09:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

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  06-Nov-2015 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Apr-2016

  13-Nov-2015 (15)


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