Claire and Adam Hitchens (Bojana Novakovic and Joseph Mawle) are Londoners who’ve arrived to set up house in a remote Irish forest with their infant son in tow. Adam is an arborist hired by a firm that has just acquired the land and wants him to evaluate the timber for harvesting.
The family is regarded with hostility by the townsfolk, especially neighbor Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), who warns them that they’re trespassing where they don’t belong and disturbing The Hallow — mythical, malevolent spirits that dwell in the woods and are said to steal children.
Deep in the forest, Adam finds the carcass of a deer in an abandoned ruin, covered by a strange, tar-like substance. Taking a sample home and examining it under a microscope, he discovers that it contains a type of zombie fungus that penetrates and takes over living cells. Soon enough, more of the sludge begins to drip from the ceiling and seep through the walls of the house, and before you can say “Boo!” the family is under siege by the very creatures Colm had sought to warn them about.
The Hallow takes elements from The Evil Dead, David Cronenberg’s body horrors and the fairytale feel of Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves to deliver an old-fashioned creature feature that, if not wholly original, has an arresting style of its own and gives horror fans plenty to feast upon. And with such a straightforward plot, Hardy and co-writer Felipe Marino are instead able to focus on delivering the jolts. Moreover, these jolts are well-earned, being much more visceral and intense than the typical spookhouse pop-ups that have come to define the ho-hum Paranormal Activity style of films.
The filmmakers wisely keep the creatures in the shadows at first, briefly glimpsed out of the corner of an eye or in a camera viewfinder. Instead, they use sound to heighten the terror, as in a truly frightening sequence in which Adam finds himself trapped in the boot of his own car while it is being violently attacked from outside. Or they tease us with glimpses of creepy limbs, as when Claire, holed up in the attic, sees one of the monsters smash its impossibly long, bony arm through the trap door to get at her, and it looks for all the world like fossilized wood. In keeping with the tenets of the genre, a fuller reveal of the monsters is reserved for the final battle.
Martijn Van Broekhuizen’s chiaroscuro cinematography drips with dread, aided by Mags Linnane’s terrific production design, which transforms their ancient, converted millhouse into a living, poisonous creature unto itself. James Gosling’s classic horror score rounds out the chills. As Hardy is a professed fan of old-school horror, almost all of The Hallow‘s special effects are practical – animatronics and puppetry (the film is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith and Stan Winston) – and it looks so much more convincing than CG.
Hardy is already set to helm the reboot of The Crow for Relativity Media. If he is able to bring a similarly rich visual style to that film, it will be a remake well worth checking out. The Hallow is currently playing in select theaters and on demand.