Faeries and woodland creatures don’t seem scary because of contemporary interpretation, but doing a little research into Irish folklore reveals a wide range of monstrous demons that don’t often get the recognition they deserve. Corin Hardy’s The Hallow, however, looks to change that by taking influence from films like Pan’s Labyrinth and creature features while drawing from Irish folk tales and stories. As a first-time film director, his offering to the horror genre is impressive, and it hits all the right notes with its monster designs and practical effects.
Hardy co-wrote the film with Felipe Marino and provided a lot of the Hallow’s designs, storyboarded from his initial ideas. It’s clear throughout that Hardy has a specific vision for the film, and he uses the Irish countryside setting – focusing on the bogs and creepy wooded areas – along with a dark, gloomy millhouse to tell the story of a couple and their child who accidentally anger the Hallow that live in the woods surrounding their home. Joseph Mawle plays Adam, a scientist studying the forest’s trees who notices a strange microscopic organism that seems to infect the vegetation and animal life, while his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic) attempts to fix up their house by taking down weird iron bars that line the windows.
Quickly things go bump in the night. Hardy’s quiet setting belies the danger that’s hidden within the woods, and it doesn’t take long after Adam discovers a dead deer teeming with the organisms for the Hallows to come out and play. The film plays it slow; first there are crashes in the house at night, or startling moments where it feels like the family is being watched. But Hardy and Marino’s script effectively pushes the supernatural aside in favor of blaming the locals, who continually warn the Hitchens family about the dangers of disturbing the woods.
When the Hallows do come out, though, Hardy’s makes sure to veil them, casually leading up to a full physical reveal. Part of this is because The Hallows doesn’t want to spoil the cool creature designs, but it’s also to drape the Hallows in darkness based on their weaknesses. Like vampires and werewolves, the Hallows are given a vulnerability – iron and light – allowing the film to play with these coventions.
Mawle and Novakovic do a great job leading the film, and Hardy utilizes an intimate focus on their relationship to sell Adam’s change from human to Hallow about halfway through the movie. These are likable characters reacting in realistic ways, which seems like it should be expected but that’s not always the case in this genre. When Hardy throws in common genre tropes, like a car not starting, it’s not because the characters have been dumb enough to drop the keys on the run from their house; it’s because the overgrowth from the woody vines has clogged the engine block.
That’s the most important thing about The Hallow; it’s a film that feels familiar – and quite honestly takes a lot from its predecessors in the creature-feature subgenre – but manages to provide a fresh take on the subject matter. It adopts the trope of the gradually-turning-evil father, but then it reverses it with a tense scenario that forces the viewer to contemplate whether the family’s baby is real, or a folkloric changeling. Even better, though, is Hardy’s decision to use practical special effects instead of digital.
The Hallow‘s creature creations are great, and the film uses them sporadically without them overstaying their welcome. Hardy has some quick cutaways, like the Hallows creeping up on the Hitchens’ while they’re in the car, to cement the threat without the need for close-ups, although towards the end the designs feature more prominently. It’s skillfully done, though, and it feels like Hardy understands exactly why some creature features work while others don’t.
The Hallow isn’t a particularly original premise, but it has the right blend of atmosphere and tension, along with some great cliche reversals, to make it a sleeper hit. Fans of practical horror will definitely want to check out the designs that mix human operators with mechanical robotics. The film is a surprisingly fresh take on this style of horror, and it shows that there’s still some good stuff to be mined from the usual creatures-in-the-woods setup.
The Hallow gets a nice Blu-Ray treatment with a good HD transfer of the film, which looks very good and manages a lot of depth even in the numerous dark sequences. The film’s audio comes in two tracks, a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio and a 2.0 DTS-HD master audio. Both sound good; I watched with 5.1 and there’s some nice use of noise and ambience, although I would have liked the dialogue to be just a bit louder.
The special features are where this disc really excels, so skip the Netflix stream of the film and pick this up on hard copy. Scream Factory and IFC Films provide audio commentary from director Corin Hardy, and he’s very good at picking out the most interesting parts of the film’s production. Along with that is a 50-minute making-of documentary that is skillfully put together, and for those truly interested in the film, it’s a great look into the creation of The Hallow.
Along with that are behind-the-scenes edits from that documentary, totaling about 7 minutes split among three short clips. Storyboard, sketchbook, creature, and Book of Invasions galleries provide even more content, all taken from the original creature designs. Finally, a trailer ends the special features. For packaging, this comes with a slipcover and reversible cover art on the box itself. All told, a very nice package that should persuade many to go for the Blu-Ray instead of streaming.