If ever you move into a small community in the countryside, and the locals are unfriendly, telling you that the woods nearby are haunted or filled with monsters, leave immediately! Yes! No matter how quaint and cozy the place looks, no matter how well-manicured and green those pastures are (especially if it’s someplace in Europe, with thousands of years of history), believe the scary backwoods tales and legends you hear. Without having a second thought, or using your “better judgement,” just get the hell out! Otherwise, you could be the reluctant star of a modern-day fairy tale, complete with real horrors as your fate (just like The Brothers Grimm originally wrote them)! The Hallow (directed by Corin Hardy) is one of the worst nightmares you could imagine, with some of the most original and frightening monsters I’ve seen. Even The Brothers Grimm would be impressed with this one!
As the story begins, the two main characters–Adam and Clare–arrive in what looks like the perfect postcard countryside of a small, idyllic town. It’s in Europe, of course–Ireland to be exact. (Yes, it’s the kind of place I warned you about earlier!) They have barely ended the first month in their centuries-old mill house, when cautions from the locals start adding up (or piling up in huge heaps, I should say). “You shouldn’t have come here,” “Don’t go in the forest,” “They took my daughter,” “Make sure you keep iron on the windows, and keep the lights on,” are just a few of the warnings they get, complete with the look of death from those who tell them. If that’s not enough, a demonic fairy tale book (akin to The Evil Dead‘s Book of the Dead) is their only housewarming gift. Yikes! Soon enough, as you’d expect, the superstitious warnings have real-world effects…of course! Was that really just a “drunken bird” that flew in your window? I don’t think so!
“The forest you’re trampling on belongs to the Hallow. If you trespass upon them, they’ll trespass upon you.”
As mentioned earlier, The Hallow is a modern-day fairy tale of the older, gruesome kind. Just as their purpose was originally, this one is meant to tell a story that warns people not to go in the woods. However, this tale is not meant to keep you from being killed by the usual dangers in a forest–wolves, bears, etc. This one, rather than for children only, is for adults even more. It’s not a fairy tale of the Disney kind. Featured here are no happy, friendly, ever-singing dwarves, with princes finding true love with a slipper and a kiss. There are no helpful fairies fulfilling your wish upon a star, and “happily ever after” is not the ending. Found in these woods are banshees, baby snatchers…and evil.
Do Adam (Joseph Mawle) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic) heed the warnings of paranoid neighbors and tales of centuries-old legends and lore? Of course not! (I’m not spoiling anything to tell you that, and you know it!) Just as people with “common sense” do, they blow everything off as legends, old wives’ tales, and other stories not to be believed. Does it get worse? Of course! Adam just happens to have the job of surveying the woods for a company that plans to cut down the trees for development. Yes! I dare you to think of a better way to piss off the monsters in the woods…and our would-be hero has just the job of doing it. Making things worse (if that seems possible), they also have a newborn baby! Can they be in more danger and be more vulnerable? I doubt it.
Are there really monsters in these woods, or are they just in the imaginations of those who believe in them? What kind of monsters are they? They are from the cesspool of fear and dread in your worst nightmare, if not from hell! These monsters are organic and visceral; they are a part of the forest itself. They have always been there and always will be. They are from superstitions, grounded well in the earth (literally), making them all the more terrifying and real in our minds and the physical world. Included is an element of genetic mutation, infectious on a viral level, making this a terror tale ever more relevant for the times. Yes! Viral, monster mutation, without a cure! What could be worse? “The trojan horse of parasitic fungi,” perhaps? Here, superstition and science gives us a most unique hybrid horror!
In The Hallow, even humans become monsters, in their physical transformations as well as in their reactions to fear. Yes! Here, even neighbors turn away (and threaten) women and children to save themselves. Since we have the ability and expectation to do better, as humans, we may be the worst monsters of all. This commentary about humanity is, indeed, a monstrous connection to the reality of ourselves. For those who think The Hallow doesn’t have deeper meaning, think again. You will only find meaning as deeply as you look!
“It gets inside the nest, drops its spores, over the entire colony, creating thousands of little fungus…controlled automatons.” ~ Adam
If there is any monster from another horror film that reminds me of some in The Hallow, it is another of my favorites–Pumpkinhead. The similarity is mostly in the mutual earthiness of their origins and, to some extent, their physical form as well. However, even with the similarities, The Hallow has unique offerings of monsters in myriad amounts. If one is monster is killed, there is another to take its place, just as there is death, decay, and growth in nature, with life always returning. Pumpkinhead is born of blood and earth in a hollow, conjured up by a human and driven by his wrath. The Hallow is a place where indigenous monsters are driven by their own will–arguably, here, a proactive self-defense. These monsters look to eradicate (or assimilate) the predictable human threats, by making them part of…the family. Is this a fairy tale with nature vs. man as its theme? Perhaps this is a type of reverse fairy tale in which humans are the monsters. Maybe we only see the humans as victims, because we are humans too! Again, it’s all in how deeply you look for the meaning…or, in this case, the roots!
Is there sufficient gore in The Hallow? Yes! There are enough gashes, lacerations, and gaping wounds to make Snow White faint and cause the seven dwarves to run for cover. There are enough body mutations and genetic growths to prompt a nuclear fallout response, all in the lush, green, heavily-wooded, rolling hills of…Ireland. A special shout out to the make up and special effects crew in The Hallow is well deserved. As mentioned earlier, the creatures that inhabit this movie are indeed, what makes it so very special. Without such original designs–sprouting growths from human skin, organic needles telescoping from gnarly fingers, doppelganger babies with black, lifeless eyes, and more–it would be too much like other such movies of its kind, too easily forgotten. Instead, The Hallow is one to remember and watch again, for the creatures as well as the story. Yes! I will never forget that needle, protruding ever closer to Clare’s watchful eye. Frozen and gazing in fear, does she takes the heroine high road to protect her child? Will her stare be bold and brave? Will she wince or flinch? Or, doth a needle pierce an eye?
The ever-important acting is ever-awesome, right down to the token local, Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), superstitious enough to make us believe his every word. Joseph Mawle (as Adam) and Bojana Novakovic (as Clare) are most convincing in the roles of ordinary people who deal with extraordinary circumstances (or incredible horrors), much the same way any of us would. They are characters the audience can relate to, helping to ground the movie’s fantastic events in a level of reality we can believe. At first, they try to run; when running is no longer possible, they fight tooth and nail…literally. They don’t believe in the monsters at first, dismissing what seems impossible; but, they are no fools. When the unbelievable becomes real, they adapt quickly.
“Mr. Hitchins, this isn’t London. Things here go bump in the night.” ~ Local Police
Other characters in the movie are fleeting but make their mark well, adding to the creepiness overall. I’m thinking of a scene in which a group of young boys on the side of the road stare at Adam, as he rides by, suggesting he is seriously not welcome. It adds a dose of what I call the Deliverance Effect--dangerous things locals do when they become protective of their “backwoods” ways…and secrets. Yes! Is anyone starting to hear doodling banjos about right now? Now, all we need is a diaper and a squealing pig!
The Hallow is a perfect Halloween-night horror film that gets the characters (and viewers) into deep $#!t quickly enough! After a measured beginning, allowing the characters (and us) to have a false sense of security, there are no slow moments. Yes! Once the action begins, it never stops, relentlessly pulling us in, deeper. Looking away (as you are unlikely to do) could cause you to miss something really creepy, in the dark, barely visible, all the more scary being so subtle. (Who wants to miss that in a horror film?) “Did I really just see that?” “What was that moving shape that might have been something in the woods?” “Are those the eyes of a demon, watching me in the night?” Yes! The Hallow starts off with glimpses, shadows, sounds and nothing tangible or certain, working its way into a very in-your-face, hands-on (or claws-on) experience. However, nothing ever gets so familiar that it loses its effect. Shadows and quick cuts keep us, as they should, from getting to know the “monsters” too well. “What was that I just saw…in my own home?” you ask. Hopefully, it’s only your imagination!
“A conquered people, forever in hiding, driven from their sacred lands by man with iron and fire.” ~ Irish Folklore
There is a particular scene, when Adam is locked in the trunk of his car, listening to the horrifying sounds of something that could be attacking or taking his child. This is a high point of horror in The Hallow that occurs, ironically (or as you would expect), precisely because we, like Adam, are not allowed to see what is happening. In order NOT to give you a big spoiler here, I will also NOT tell you what happened! How did he ever get locked in his trunk? What in the world is that growling, snarling creature doing to that baby, screaming and crying outside? Will Adam get out in time…and what will be left of the baby? Wondering about such questions is horror, indeed!
Whatever you do, listen to the locals, don’t go in the woods, and get the hell out of town! Keep the lights on, lock the doors, and bar the windows with iron wherever you go! Who knows whence the wood came that built your house? Who knows what demons dwell within? In the spirit of fairy tales of old, these monsters want your children…and YOU too! As it says in The Book of Invasions: C.1150: “Hallow be their name, and blessed be their claim. If you who trespass put down roots, then Hallow be your name.”