Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sundance ’15: The Hallow

Blame the Euro. Since Ireland no longer controls its own monetary policy, it has been forced to sell off its national forest to pay down its budget deficit. To facilitate the sale to a lumber concern, a young forester has temporarily relocated his wife and infant son to remote cabin in the woods. The fae people are none too happy about it, but they would probably be after their baby anyway, because that’s what they do. Dread runs like thick goey sap in Corin Hardy’s The Hallow, which screens during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

The forest is deep, dark, and verdant. Adam Hitchens thinks he is in his element, so he has no qualms about tromping about with his rug rat strapped to his back. Gee, that dropped pacifier sure looks ominous though. Seriously, why doesn’t he just put in ad in the Faery Times that says: “plump baby available for abduction.”

Hitchens hardly has time to toke up at home before things start going bump in the night. Initially, he and his wife Claire assume it is the work of angry farmer Colm Donnelly, who bitterly resents Hitchens’ reason for being there. However, things escalate to a level that is difficult to ascribe to a human agency. Of course, by this point, Claire has already pried the iron bars off the windows. You might wonder why the previous tenant of Victim Cottage felt compelled to put them up in the first place, but not these Londoners. Similarly, he does not think twice about bringing some cool “zombie” tree fungus into hearth and home.

Hardy and cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen are strong on atmosphere, so it is a bit of shame the film rushes so quickly into supernatural bedlam. A slower build would have yielded stronger results. He and co-screenwriter Felipe Marino promise a lot of ancient archetypal folklore, but aside from some changeling business, they keep the night terrors relatively conventional. Hardy is also a bit too frugal with Michael Smiley, whose craggy badassery livens up his one scene as Davey, the local Garda (“I’m from Belfast, we had a different sort of bogeyman there”).

Still, the locations and set design are massively creepy and the ectoplasmic body horror is suitably grotesque. As the Hitchens, Game of Thrones alumnus Joseph Mawle comes across as a bit of a pathetically underwhelming environmental hipster (is there any other kind?), while Bojana Novakovic flashes some welcome assertiveness. Much like Smiley, Michael McElhatton also adds some memorably cranky local color as the sour Donnelly.

For genre fans, The Hallow gets the job done, but it raises expectations early on that it will be somewhat more than it is. Ticket holders should note, rather than a stinger per se, a long parting sequence runs throughout the closing credits, building to a final, quiet gotcha shot. An okay excursion into the evil woods, The Hallow is recommended for those who want to maximize the “Park City at Midnight” experience when it screens tonight (1/31) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.