Posted on November 9, 2015

Don’t Go Into the Woods: The Hallow

Dawn Keetley

Corin Hardy’s 2015 Irish folk horror film,The Hallow follows a couple, Adam and Claire Hitchens (Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic), along with their baby, Finn, who go to stay in a house deep in the Irish forest, which has just been sold for development. They discover there is a frightening truth to local folklore about “the hallow”—fairies and other supernatural creatures who want humans to stay out of their woods.

1. Hallow, opening quotation

I really wanted to like The Hallow, but while there are certainly some interesting aspects to the film, overall I have to say that it was a pretty big disappointment.

The Hallow is firmly in the folk horror tradition, the crucial components of which I mapped out in an earlier post. It is dominated by the landscape (beautifully shot, despite the film’s other limitations), located in an isolated community, and the narrative is driven by archaic occult beliefs. The film also, though, draws liberally from other kinds of horror. At times, it fairly self-consciously evokes creature features—Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982)—as well as what could be called the “possessed patriarch” films—The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Shining (1982). The creatures were also reminiscent of those in Neil Marshall’s brilliant The Descent (2005)—and the two films share something of a narrative trajectory. While horror films always draw on other horror films, though, The Hallow may do so a bit too wildly and without shaping its borrowings into something distinctively its own.

2. Hallow, Claire and baby, sunlight

One of the main problems I had with The Hallow, however, was the lack of character development and context. It’s telling that the protagonist, Adam, is described as a “conservationist” in the plot summary of the film on Wikipedia, and yet, in an interview with director Corin Hardy at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, the writer notes that Adam “works for a logging company.” True, Adam could well be a conservationist who works for a logging company, but the bottom line is, we don’t really know what he does or why. We get a short scene of him in the forest marking trees for removal and that’s about it. And while we’re told that Adam and Claire have been living in this rural community, deep in the woods, for a month, we get virtually nothing of their lives or their relationships with the locals. Not only did I not really care, then, when bad things started happening to Adam and Claire, I also struggled to figure out what their relation was to the politics of deforestation that was clearly supposed to be central to the film.

I also felt the pacing of the film was way off. At about 22 minutes into the 97 minute film, the creatures start attacking—and things are, for the most part, pretty frenetic from then on. The film just doesn’t seem terribly interested in building suspense. In a roughly hour-and-a-half long film, I would argue that at least the first 45 minutes should be build-up—the horror lurking around the edges, suggesting itself but not quite revealed. The Hallow dispenses with this crucial part of a horror film way too early and goes full-on-attack for an exhaustingly long time. Frankly, it just became kind of boring.[i]

3. The Hallow, glimpse of creatures2 44 mins

The most chilling scene is one that best plays with rendering the forest creatures obliquely. It’s an (albeit clichéd) moment when Adam and Claire’s car has (of course) stalled in the middle of the woods as they’re trying to escape. As Claire sits in the driver’s seat waiting for Adam to fix the engine, we see the creatures slowly emerge from the woods behind them, obscured by darkness and by purposefully blurred shots; even when they loom in front of her, in the headlights, we get only quick cuts between them and the terrified Claire.

What was best about the film (and becomes better the more I think about it) was the way it wove together a naturalistic and environmentally conscious eco-horror with the fairytale (the latter being what Hardy has talked most about in interviews). The supernatural forest creatures of The Hallow are at the same time a kind of parasitic fungus that Adam compares to the cordyceps, which attacks the brains of ants, taking them over. The cordyceps, as Adam recounts, “gets inside the nest, drops its spores over the entire colony, creating thousands of little fungus controlled automatons.” And this fungus is paralleled particularly with the efforts of the creatures in The Hallow to take Finn—to get inside the human nest and thus subjugate those who would invade their terrain. The natural (fungus) and supernatural (the creatures) coalesce here: both are the possessing agents; both are defending nature—the forest—from human depredations.

4. Hallow, the parasite 5. Hallow, picture of the changeling

There have been a spate of eco-horror films of late that use the device of the parasite to manifest how nature fights back against human encroachment—e.g., Severed (2005), Splinter (2008), and The Thaw (2009)—but none of them (with the exception of Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter [2006]) weaves a rich folk mythology into the story of parasitical infection. It’s The Hallow’s best moment.

Unrated |   97 min   |   Corin Hardy |   (UK-Ireland)   |   2015

The Hallow is streaming on Amazon:

[i] Corin Hardy is (ironically) crucially aware of the importance of pacing, having this to say in an interview: “Yeah, for sure. I wanted to make something which had a sort of slow burn, gets you in, and there’s a moment in a horror movie, especially ones that are set in one night, when the shit hits the fan. You have to maintain that tension and progression and not peak too early. So there was a sense of a trajectory both in narrative and the story arcs, but also the set pieces.”
Read more at Despite Hardy’s intentions, I obviously feel this is exactly where the film fails most. It’s hard for me to grasp how he could have felt that it had a “slow burn.”




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