Released: 10 July 2015
Director: Corin Hardy
Distributor: Entertainment One
Stars: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, and Michael Smiley
British conservationist Adam Hitchens (Mawle) has moved to a remote Irish village with his wife, Claire (Novakovic), and baby boy Finn. However, despite the cold and aggressive warnings of local villagers like Colm Donnelly (McElhatton), Adam continually ventures into a dense and feared forest, discovering both a strange fungal infection and a number of demonic creatures intent on stealing their baby.
Written alongside co-producer Felipe Marino, The Hallow is the creation of English director Corin Hardy, who wished to pay tribute to, and touch upon, numerous elements of the horror genre (from body horrors to creature features) to create a dark fairytale that was inspired by the darker elements of Irish fiction and lore. Produced on a limited budget, and favouring traditional, practical effects over an abundance of computer-generated effects, The Hallow premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and garnered quite a positive reception for its dark atmosphere and impressive creature effects.
The Hallow is like a love letter to a bygone era of horror cinema in that it uses a shoe-string budget wisely, utilising dark, moody lighting, creepy, dilapidated sets and forests, and a generally foreboding sense of dread to build tension and leave the audience hankering for answers. Focusing on only two characters (and their little boy) helps to keep the film from getting too bloated with unnecessary characters who exist purely to be killed; indeed, The Hallow’s body count and gore factor are both quite low as the film is more about trying to figure out exactly what it is out in those decrepit woods that is causing such horrific events to happen. The locals view the woods with dread and fear, believing a supernatural force dwells within that takes great offense to disturbance of its natural habitat and strikes back with a wicked vengeance, stealing children in the dead of night.
While all the locals share this sentiment, none exemplify it more than the closest thing the film has to a human antagonist, Colm, whose daughter was a victim of the woods and the entity that dwells within (known in local folklore as the titular Hallow). As such, Colm, exhibits a paranoid, aggressive demeanour around Adam and Claire, entering their house and walking onto their property in a threatening manner in an attempt to warn them off but never quite explaining what it is that has him so deathly afraid until it is too late. Adam and Claire as surprisingly unremarkable characters, however this isn’t actually meant as a criticism; the whole point of these two is that they are perfectly normal individuals who are menaced by an increasingly malevolent series of events. At first, they believe it’s the work of the locals but they soon find that the Hallow is just as incensed by their presence and that their lives are in genuine danger.
Their relationship is relatively stable throughout all of this; despite having made a big life change and moving from the bustling streets of London and into the middle of nowhere, they’re still very much a team and clearly still enamoured by each other. The events of the film test their sanity and relationship, however, when the malicious fungus of the forest begins to spread not only through their house but also through Adam in the form of a particularly cringe-inducing attack. As Adam’s behaviour becomes more erratic and his body horrifically mutates from the fungus’ influence, Claire comes to fear him as much as the demonic faerie-like creatures that make up the Hallow; through it all, her primary concern is the welfare of Finn, the Hitchens’ helpless little baby who becomes the target of the Hallow’s wrath. To that end, she runs head-first into the dangers of the woods without a second’s hesitation to retrieve the boy and is genuinely torn between her love for Adam and her devotion to her baby when the increasingly-infected Adam suggests that Finn has been replaced with a Hallow-born changeling.
The horror of The Hallow is in taking a perfectly normal couple in an isolated, rural environment surrounded by superstitions and hostility and bombarding them with increasingly supernatural and horrific events. The idea here is that this could happen anywhere as foreboding, ominous woods and forests are scattered all over the United Kingdom’s more rustic landscapes and myths and tales of local folklore and horrors still permeate to this day, forming the basis of many popular fairytales and nursery rhymes. As a result, the horror is more of a creepy, unsettling vibe; jump scares are used sparingly and to great effect and the creature effects are effectively hidden through clever lighting and camera tricks. When the Hallow do appear onscreen, they look gruesome and realistic as a result of the film’s practical approach and, even better, while competing theories of their origins are presented (one a more supernatural perspective and the other more scientific), no concrete explanation of their origins, motivations, or nature is really given, meaning they are all the more terrifying for their mystery as much as their ruthlessness.
Like any good, classic horror film, much of The Hallow’s action and horror takes place in the unsettling dead of night; light harms these creatures, so they only emerge when it is dark and constantly stick to the shadows, meaning we rarely get a good look at them in the film’s early going. Though Adam is able to fire up a generator, this is only a temporary solution and the Hallow are smart enough to cut their lights and means of communication (not that it would do much good as the locals are too afraid and too prejudiced against the outsiders to offer much in the way of support).
Infected by the fungus quite early into the Hallow’s move against his family, much of the second act of the film revolves around Adam struggling against the fungus’ influence to fight off the Hallow and keep his wife and child safe. This becomes increasingly difficult as the fungus warps his mind and senses as much as his body, making him more aggressive, paranoid, and animalistic as its effects spread. These manifest themselves in a variety of gruesome ways, from warping his eye and causing disgusting tendrils to emerge from his body to having him see his son as a horrific creature rather than a bawling baby.
As the damage to his body intensifies, Adam eventually succumbs to the fungus and is able to walk freely among the Hallow in a bid to find his real son; on the cusp of being completely taken over, he appears to become the film’s true antagonistic force (especially when he lights a scythe on fire and begins a relentless pursuit of Claire and Finn) but ultimately sacrifices his humanity and his life to rescue his son and expose the Hallow’s deception. The main selling point of The Hallow, like any good creature feature, is, of course, the titular creatures; strange, malformed goblin-like monstrosities, the Hallow were once human (possibly all once human children) who were infected by the malevolent fungus that dwells within the woods and, over time, horrifically transformed into twisted, cannibalistic monsters who can only exist in darkness and ferociously lash out at any who desecrate their land. Thanks to their abhorrence to sunlight (and to iron) and habit of stealing children, the Hallow are viewed as a very real superstition by the locals, something that is left largely uncertain by the film’s ambiguous approach, all of which helps to increase the horror of the Hallow through the fact that they are both plausible and also unquantifiable.
The Hallow is a very intense, atmospheric piece of horror; what little budget the film had has clearly been put to good use, allowing the plot to focus only on a handful of characters to ensure the best performances. Rife with feelings of escalating dread and isolation, the film is just as much about sickening body horror as it is its terrifying creatures, striking a good balance between superstition and the supernatural and a more tangible, recognisable threat. One of the best aspects of the film is how it doesn’t concern itself with being pretentious or overly artsy; instead, its focus is on atmosphere and terror, using its malicious little creatures sparingly and to great effect to punctuate its subtle horrors.
Have you ever seen The Hallow? If so, what did you think of it? What are some of your favourite low budget horror titles? Can you think of any other fairytales or bits of folklore that would make (or have made) for terrifying horror films? What are some of your favourite films (or instances) of body horror or featuring malicious little creatures? No matter what you think or what examples you have, feel free to write a comment below.