Corin Hardy’s debut film The Hallow opens up with a picturesque shot of Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle) and his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) on a ship looking out at the Irish landscape that will serve as their new home. Complete with baby boy in tow, it is a serene moment for the big city couple, but an ominous one for the audience. It does not take long for the pending sense of dread within the viewer to be confirmed. Barely settled into their new surroundings, the couple’s presence is already sending shockwaves through their small Irish community. Many, including their neighbour Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), are not happy with the fact that Adam has moved into town in order to assess which trees in the forest need to be marked for clearing. Believing that the forest belongs to The Hallow, folklore creatures who hide in the woods and steal children, the town folks repeatedly warn the couple about trespassing on sacred land.
Brushing off the warnings as silly Irish legend, Adam is determined to finish the job he is being paid to do. However, when strange occurrences begin to happen around the Hithchens’ household, the couple soon find themselves in a fight for survival against an unknown force they can no longer ignore.
Establishing its chilling atmosphere early on, Hardy crafts a creature feature that plays predominantly like a boogeyman tale. The Hallow revels in the things that go bump in the night. It works best when Hardy’s camera is focusing on Adam and Clare and letting the audience conjure up their own image of where The Hallow may be lurking. A perfect example of this is when Adam inadvertently finds himself trapped in the trunk of his car while his son is left alone in the backseat. The scene is intensified by the fact that the car has broken down deep in the woods. Similar to Adam, the audience is unable to see the creatures but the sounds of them attempting to enter the car are terrifying.
The haunting sense of isolation the film evokes can be felt both in and out of the dense woods. Adam is viewed as a pariah within the community. Everyone is aware that a sickness lurks amongst the trees, but no one wants Adam, aptly referred to by locals as the “tree doctor,” poking his nose where it does not belong. When things start to go bad for the couple it is clear that no one in the town will be offering any assistance. Whether intentional or not, Hardy’s film makes several subtle commentaries regarding the lack of respect that big corporations have for communities and tradition. In the eyes of the town folk Adam and Claire represent those big city companies who steamroll into a region neglecting to consider how their presence will impact the environment.
Despite all the things that The Hallow does right, the film gets tripped up by its own mythology towards the end. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the way The Hallows function. Sometimes they hunt in packs, while in other moments only one or two seem committed to terrorizing Adam and Clare. Furthermore, since the couple are on their own for the bulk of the film, there are only so many places that Hardy can stage the action. After a while it becomes a bit daunting watching the Hitchens go back and forth between the woods and their home. Thankfully Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic deliver strong enough performances to maintain the eerie tone even when the story goes off the rails a bit.
Employing mostly practical effects to enhance the scary atmosphere, there is much to like in The Hallow. Though the film cannot sustain the tight ball of tension it initially creates, the last act is a bit of a mess, Hardy does a solid job of providing enough chills to satisfy audiences.
Thursday, October 15, 9:45 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Saturday, October 17, 11:59 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto After Dark website.