Old-school practical monster effects haven’t been this scary in years.
When The Hallow premiered at Sundance this year, it came with the hearty recommendation of Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead and the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy. Wright joined The Hallow’s director, Corin Hardy, for a Q&A following the film, where they discussed practical effects, and the quest to make horror movies not based around horny teenagers, vampires, werewolves, or ghosts. The whole thing was very genial, which wasn’t enough to get America’s cinemas revved up about it.
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The Hallow, a British-Irish production filmed entirely in Ireland, is a departure from American horror cinema. While It Follows, one of the year’s most beautifully rendered horror movies, worshipped and interrogated American teen-horror tropes, The Hallow finds terror in subjects more familiar to contemporary Ireland: Catholic guilt, police brutality, and the question of whether Irish millennials are still engaged with the nation’s history. The danger in The Hallow lives in Ireland’s cultural divides. A British environment worker and his lovely wife and baby move into a rural Irish town, showing little respect to how the local culture regards the town’s forest. Shit goes down.
The emotions of the Irish townies in The Hallow are so intense, so well-portrayed, that it’s impossible to ignore the film’s real plea: to remember and treasure what mattered to Ireland hundreds of years ago. This is what sets the locals in The Hallow apart from their equivalent American trope — the gas station attendant or creepy old caretaker who warns the hero about “that there haunted house on the hill.” Hardy’s locals plead with the protagonists to stay out of the forest. The raw fear in their eyes is reminiscent of the opening sequence in The Blair Witch.
Hardy has said in interviews that his project is equally ”a fairytale, a creature movie, a body horror, a possession movie, and a siege movie.” But what could have been a muddled mess of genres turned out to be the most fresh-looking, and most disturbing, horror film of the year. Its deft blending of genres represents the best of 2015’s work in the horror genre, but what makes The Hallow special is its ability to stand alone in any of the categories Hardy named. As far as dark fairytales go, The Hallow inarguably ranks.
Hardy’s deep respect for the Irish countryside is evident in his lush forest sequences. The woods where Hardy’s protagonists, a couple with a new baby, relocate to are misty and romantic, though they’re also foreboding. Every shot of the family in the forest suggests that they are merely visitors, and Hardy’s audience feels unsettled from the beginning. Before Hardy’s creatures arrive, we’re already prepped for something awful.
The monsters themselves are surprising. In a year when horror movies introduced very few new monsters or villains, the dark faeries, or “baby-stealers” of The Hallow are a welcome sight. As Hardy told the press, each of his creatures were put together almost entirely with practical effects. He told Crave Online, “there were five creature body suits, two animatronic heads, animatronic babies, changeling, animatronic arms.” Following the M.O. of the great creature features, including Alien, Hardy doesn’t unveil his monsters until well into the film.
What makes The Hallow the strongest horror film of the year? In addition to being scary and lovely to look at, the film is simply a step beyond what other studios have produced the last few years. It’s about parents trying to protect their child. It has stakes.
The film is relentless in its attempts to scare its audience, not just by introducing and heightening one creepy factor over and over, but by bombarding the viewer with different genres of dread. Both heroes are assaulted from the inside out, and there are plenty of body horror gags around the heroes’ exposed eyes. The beasties inhabit humans, furthering the internal horror, but they also turn over cars and attempt to break into the family’s home, spending a good portion of the film enacting a home-invasion scenario.
As Hardy’s first film, The Hallow also carries the promise of more quality scares to come. Its director name-dropped a dazzling collection of films which inspired The Hallow during its promotional tour: Pan’s Labyrinth, Alien, The Shining, Evil Dead, Deliverance, and Straw Dogs. He’s got good taste. All of those movies are classics. So is his.