I went into The Hallow (directed by Corin Hardy, written by Hardy and Felipe Marino) with no prior knowledge of the movie: like most people who want to form their own opinions, I generally avoid advance reviews, features, or cast and crew interviews. All I had for this one was the movie poster and the fact that it won some kind of horror movie competition, beating out the likes of It Follows, a movie with a premise I loved, but felt was otherwise mediocre. I’d never heard of Hardy before, and had no idea who was in it, so I was definitely flying blind.
The movie starts off fine – I liked the photography and the lush green of the forest setting. In a subsequent interview I read, Hardy tried to pin the movie as a kind of fairy tale, and it’s justifiable I suppose, but I think when your scenes feature a forest setting, the audience already kind of has that in mind via association. I was intrigued by the early scenes of the husband/father protagonist treading through said forest with his baby son on his back, trusty dog running ahead. It isn’t much of a set up being as it’s presented somewhat matter-of-fact, but then he encounters an odd corpse and I guess that’s what kicks off the movie’s story proper.
Getting it out of the way first, I’ll tell you I had major problems with this movie in several areas that I absolutely cannot excuse: premise, structure, and character. In other words, the entire backbone of the movie. In terms of structure, I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Act 1 is decent, I suppose, at least when it comes to setting up the characters. I thought the introductions were good, I found the main character likeable, thought the family dynamic was well set up, and the small elements of mystery were okay. Having said that, there are significant errors made here by not giving a fuller explanation of exactly why a Londoner is essentially moving to the old “Cabin in the woods”, or why his neighbor (Game of Thrones’ Michael McElhatton) is so antagonistic towards him. A local policeman (Kill List’s Michael Smiley) shows up to deliver, via the dreaded exposition scene, the premise of the movie: the local people are superstitious about this here forest. So there you go: something lives in the forest, and the locals distrust city dwellers – present day man coming into conflict with the “old legends of the past”. Laid out so clumsily like that, you know what’s coming, which is bad enough, but the big issue I have with the movie’s structure is that almost as soon as this exposition ends, the movie lurches in bizarre fashion almost directly to Act 3, skipping any kind of story or character development whatsoever. I literally found myself wondering if I’d gotten a bad version of the movie and missed half of it. It’s a stunningly bad piece of writing – absolutely one of the worst decisions I’ve encountered in recent memory. The bad stuff you know is coming starts almost immediately, there’s little foreshadowing, no mystery built up, and no real development of plot. I’m all for movies getting into the story quickly, but the way the movie continues from the end of act 1 is incomprehensibly free of story progression or character development: it literally plays like one extended scene.
Likewise, I was mystified that there is a gigantic switch of protagonist around the halfway mark. So much time is spent on building up the main character in act 1, that to completely change focus was inept and unforgivable. The only time I can recall where that worked was Cronenberg’s The Fly, and Corin Hardy is no David Cronenberg. Switching protagonist from one highly developed character to another, lesser developed one just smacks of incompetence, especially how it happens in The Hallow. Very ugly writing. In fact, the writing is to blame all the way, with the final example being in the end titles that play over a seemingly disconnected scene you quickly realize is the actual inciting incident of the entire movie. I’m not opposed to such a scene being a reveal of sorts, but this is most certainly not an “Aha!” moment. This scene should have been shown early in act 1, and not only that, it would have been a prime, organic connection to the main character (who he is, what he does, why he’s moved here from London) with better writers. This scene, above all others, is indicative of the standard of writing on display throughout The Hallow. It’s a good example of how otherwise decent elements of a production cannot save a movie from a truly dreadful screenplay. In the same subsequent Corin Hardy interview I read, he describes his movie, astonishingly, as “Straw Dogs meets Pan’s Labyrinth”. Referencing another movie, I would say that “a man’s got to know his limitations”, and once Hardy does, he’ll hopefully be a better moviemaker.
This review was originally published on 3/27/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com