Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"The Hallow": Raimi-esque Horror Without the Fun

Now Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix

The recent upswing in the quality of horror films has made me much more receptive to what I had thought was a pretty creatively dead genre.  It wasn’t that I thought good horror films couldn’t be made, just that good horror films probably wouldn’t be made considering the budgetary and studio greenlighting restrictions in mainstream cinema.  However, the indie circuit has responded with some modern classics as of late, so I was willing to see if The Hallow, another of that brood, would be able to live up to the reputation of the modern horror renaissance.  It didn’t.

Adam, Clare, and their infant son Finn move to a backcountry Irish town so that Adam may survey the local flora, which is set to be cut down by Adam’s logging employers.  The locals shun Adam’s presence and warn of The Hallow, a supernatural group of fungal creatures who live in the forest and steal infants.  The creatures eventually attack Adam and Clare so that they may steal young Finn away from them.

As far as horror plots go, it’s a pretty conventional creature feature, though props must be given to the practical effects used to create the Hallow themselves.  Apparently human, yet moving in otherworldly ways and covered from head to toe in fungus, they are gross to behold and move appropriately.  First-time director Corin Hardy seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from Evil Dead, because his jump scares and fascination with body horror seem very reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s early work, right down to images of eyeball penetration and skin-breaking distortion.

What’s missing from Hardy’s freshman effort, however, is any sense of investment or fun.  Adam and Clare are mere cyphers, their only defining character trait being that they love their son and (I guess) each other.  This makes the creature-less first half of the film a slog to get through, presumably filling out time to meet the all-important no-creature-for-the-first-hour rule.  But by not using that time to make the characters interesting or relatable, all the later setpieces fail to be tense because no effort was put into making the audience care about those suffering on-screen.  This could have been mitigated by a more lighthearted tone, a la Raimi, but Hardy pushes the film so straight that it falls flat.

There is potential in The Hallow, and its commitment to practical effects alone makes it stand out among other horror films.  However, it’s by no means an entertaining film, and it doesn’t succeed as another indie showcase of the potential horror has to make a comeback.  This will likely be forgotten rather quickly by those who even hear about it, and that obscurity is probably for the best.  Corin Hardy likely deserves another shot at directing, and if he can learn from the story-structural mistakes of this stumble, he just might have a career ahead of him.

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