FrightFest Review: The Hallow

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A refreshing change of pace from the legions of haunted house movies out there, The Hallow proudly embraces its creature feature identity and does wonders with it.

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It has often seemed like every horror film released over the last couple of years is either a remake, a Conjuring clone, or a found-footage rip-off. Caught up in trying to pursue the hottest trends, most producers don’t have confidence in anything that falls out of the very specific bracket of what they think people want. As a result, so many specific types of horror film have fallen out of fashion, when it used to be such a diverse and lively genre, that boasted plenty of different variants and sub-categories.

However with films like It Follows daring to walk their own path and resurrect past genres, we might be entering something of a renaissance period. That is if The Hallow is anything to go by at least. The first feature from music-video director Corin Hardy, The Hallow is an old-school creature feature, in the vein of The Thing, or The Descent, with elements of body-horror and a siege movie as well. It’s most obvious reference point however, is Sam Rami’s original Evil Dead.

The set-up is beautifully simple. British conservationist Adam (Joseph Mawle – or Benjen Stark to Game of Thrones fans) and his family have moved out into a remote Irish woodland. There, they encounter the usual foreboding warnings of seemingly crazy locals, who insist that they have to leave, or else demonic creatures will attack. It’s not a spoiler to say that these warnings go unheeded, and what ensures is a night of extreme peril and a very intense series of set-pieces.

Championing practical effects, The Hallow is a love letter to the sort of films that Stan Winston and Rick Baker used to make before studio’s cottoned on that it was easier to simply use CGI all of the time instead. Relying on performers in costumes and puppeteers to operate traditional animatronics, the film has something that a lot of modern ones don’t; a tangible sense of threat. CGI just isn’t scary because, no matter how good it is, it never really feels like it can be in your room at night, when you’re trying to sleep. Here on the other hand, it never looks like the creatures are on a separate plane of existence to their prey, and the effect that this has on the tension can really be felt.

The monsters are kept in the shadows for a good portion of the film, and their reveal comes in gradual glimpses scattered throughout. But Hardy is smart enough to know what kind of film he is making. This isn’t the sort of thing that would benefit from totally withholding the creatures for the whole run time, and so by the end you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth and haven’t been cheated. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have seen more or less the perfect amount of monster goodness.

In terms of design the film perfectly captures the feel of its influences. A central book that explains the lore of the Hallows looks almost identical to the Necronomicon, and the actual beasties themselves come in a variety of forms, all of which are equally creepy and imaginative. Kudos should also go the sound-designers, who create some really intimidating effects to go along with all of the inventive visuals.

Which brings us to the Hallows as creatures. These type of films rely solely on whether or not you have antagonists worth remembering, and the Hallows are just that. Rather than working as adapted zombies or anything else you’ve seen a thousand times before, the Hallows are unique and interesting creatures with their own distinct characteristics. They have their own weaknesses, their own frightening abilities and their own motivations. Over the course of the film you learn more and more about them and what they can do, an experience that is far too rare nowadays. This is what horror desperately needs. Iconic villains for our own generation, rather than just a mere recycling of the genre’s greatest hits.

Hardy’s direction is top-notch as well, eliciting marvellous amounts of suspense from tiny details like shadows, the flash of a camera, or subtle shifts in focus. His understanding of the genre is also impeccable, and as a result he is able to play with audience expectations, and provide new twists on stale tropes. Just when you think you’ve figured out exactly where a scare or plot-point is going, there will be a small shake-up that you definitely didn’t see coming.

If there’s any problem, it’s that the film doesn’t quite capture the same level of ickyness as its forbears. Some Brundlefly-esque moments in the latter half aside, this could have done with a little bit more nastiness to really be the splatter-fest it’s aiming to be.

All in all though, The Hallow is more than just a great film. It’s the kind of film that needs to receive an equal amount of love and affection from the public, as its director has clearly already poured into it. It’s the kind of film that needs to be supported, and showered with praise. Because horror can be great again, with the right encouragement.

The Hallow (2015), directed by Corin Hardy, is released in the UK on 13th November by Entertainment One. Certificate 15. Full details of all of the films showing at Film4 FrightFest can be found here.  

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I have the enviable skill of making TV watching, Video-game playing and ranting about films appear to be a legitimate form of work. It's exhausting. Oh and I am the Culture Editor now... that too!

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