Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Hallow (2015)

Starring: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley

Directed by: Corin Hardy

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Bojana Novakovic in Corin Hardy's The HallowIf you trespass on them, they'll trespass on you.

Such is the premise of Corin Hardy's fairy tale eco-horror The Hallow. Adam (the excellent Joseph Mawle) is a scientist employed to assess an ancient Irish forest that has recently been bought up by a logging company. Foolishly, he takes his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and baby son Finn on this excursion. A big mistake, given that the primeval folk of the woods are given to stealing children...

At first, the couple assume that the things going bump and crash in the night come courtesy of their belligerent, superstitious neighbours, who make the folk of Summer Isle look like holiday reps. But it soon becomes apparent that they're dealing with forces far older and darker than a few shotgun-toting farmers – a point made horribly clear when Clare is presented with an arcane book bound like the Necronomicon (one of several nice references in the movie), which sets out their plight in rune-embellished black and white.

Part Wicker Man-style folk horror, part Cronenbergian body horror, The Hallow is at times nail-bitingly tense, particularly during the scene in which our couple attempt to escape the trap closing around them – in the dead of night, in a car that won't start, surrounded by shadowy monsters. In the Q&A following the screening, director Hardy (who dresses like a tribute to Johnny Depp, fyi) stresses the efforts he expended to balance the fantasy and reality of the film: this scene gets that balance just right.

As tends to happen, the tension dissipates somewhat when we see the grotesque prosthetics of the creatures tormenting them (not for nothing is Ray Harryhausen thanked in the credits) and the balance tips firmly into gothic fairyland, but until then the scares are masterfully handled. The unusual inclusion of a baby instead of the obligatory small child also adds a layer of pathos and vulnerability that ratchets up the fear factor further.

Thematically, The Hallow is almost identical to fellow Festival screening Hellions: innnocent person accidentally angers a primordial force that covets their child, resulting in home invasion, bloodshed and general nastiness. Yet the approaches could not be more different – psychedelic nightmare vs grim, muddy ordeal – fresh evidence that exciting, innovative horror is still alive and kicking in the 21st century.

Gripping and visceral, The Hallow is not without its flaws (some of the ye olde backwoods Oirland stuff is a bit laboured, and, as usual, our central protagonists continually make utterly idiotic decisions) but it certainly makes for an entertaining evening.

Deathly hallows indeed...

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