First-time director Corin Hardy's Irish horror excels at ghastly effects, but not originality
The Hallow is about what happens when you move to the Irish countryside. It’s about fear of a gloopy black bog, and your baby sinking into it, or being replaced with a changeling by malevolent forest sprites. As other known local threats go, it doesn’t even mention Jedward, but there are more than enough things clawing through the shutters at dendrologist Adam (Joseph Mawle) and his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) without gilding the lily insufferably.
Still, gild the lily is what The Hallow often does – a forgivable lapse from first-time feature director Corin Hardy, who will hopefully make more controlled films when he’s settled into his groove. He has a good eye for what looks ghastly: the make-up team excel with the ghoulish, once-human foes here, now woodland demons who want to get their hands on fresh meat. The more briefly they’re glimpsed, the better, as with those ravening troglodytes in The Descent.
This, alas, is no The Descent. Visually, Hardy does a lot on his limited budget: it’s the logic of the build-up that registers as disappointingly cheap and contrived. Adam and Clare, both ciphers pretending to be characters, already seem to know what The Hallow are, or at least have their unexplained superstitions about these mythical beings confirmed. The toxic goo that’s crawling all over their farmhouse comes in quivering black tendrils, the function of which is too vaguely linked to the humanoid intruders.
Hardy’s love of cult horror favourites from the Seventies and Eighties is worn right on his grubby sleeves: the setup is pure Straw Dogs, with a push towards The Shining when Adam gets infected (it starts in his eyeball) and starts to become a menace to his own family.
There’s barely a shot or sequence that doesn’t owe a bald debt to something or other, whether it’s Lucio Fulci’s legendary voodoo shocker Zombie Flesh Eaters, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, or John Carpenter’s powerfully icky remake of The Thing.
Command of the effects, extraordinary in all of the above, is easily the strongest element on show, but it would count for more if this grim-faced film marshalled a driving vision of its own, or at least betrayed a sense of humour. It’s fanboy horror to satiate the hungriest genre fiends out there – slick, but simple-minded.