What Does It Want to Be? A TADFF 15 Review of The Hallow
There are many different interpretations of faeries. Corin Hardy, director of The Hallow, seems aware of this fact: particularly with regards to how the Fae relates to Nature, being the Other in relation to humanity, and always bordering on the formless. Anyone who has read the original fairytales, the oral cautionary folklore of the past, understands just how dark and alien faeries can be.
The premise of the film is fascinating: in that Adam Hitchens, a British conservationist, his wife Claire, and their infant son move to an old forest in Ireland. They move there so that Adam can survey and eventually allow for construction in the area. The problem, of course, is simple: faeries or, as they called in the mythology of the film, the Hallow dwell in the forest … and they do not take kindly to having their territory intruded upon.
Or at least that is what it seems. Hardy creates an interesting take on faerie mythology that feeds well the film’s narrative: at least upon first glance. Through Adam’s own stubbornly scientific observations, viewers see the Hallow as a form of fungus that takes over its hosts: a life form that is highly photosensitive and possesses a great aversion to cold iron. They also create changelings: substitutions of stolen babies when they want to infiltrate a human settlement. It is also very clever how, as what seems to be a hive-mind fungus, the Hallow already has a presence in their wooden house: a ubiquitous threat making the audience aware of that tenuous line between Nature and human society.
However, how the Hallow interacts with the protagonists is where it all begins to fall flat. Even though, at the beginning, someone with a knowledge of faerie lore might wince at Claire taking off the iron bars around the windows of their new home, the nature of the Hallow itself — or themselves — just doesn’t possess any continuity. One moment it seems as though it wants to consume the family; at another it toys with them; and then it wants to spread beyond the forest even though it could have done so many times over for years.
The Hallow as a creature defines its own film structure. It seems stuck in a place between body horror, creature featuring, haunted housing, psychological, and zombie survival horror. Its as though, like its Fae monstrosities, it doesn’t know what it is, or whether or what kind of individuality it possesses. Even Adam and his dog, both of whom are infected by the Hallow fungi, seem to struggle with its mutations slightly but still ultimately fight against it. It just takes away from the actual horror element despite the excellently malformed Hallow creatures, the engrossing scenic view of the forest environment that could easily have been lost to time, and the very real terror a mother feels when her child is danger.
There were a lot of themes that could have been explored in more detail such as a loss or questioning of identity, or even specifics about the incredibly elaborate book of fairytales that the farmer Colm Donnell left the family to warn them out of the forest. The ending just bludgeons for a sequel that lacks even the mystique of its forest environment seemingly last to humanity and time, and the following jump scare just feels a little cheap. But the environment was played with well and there was some kind of closure and humanity for the characters involved.
Before the Toronto After Dark’s showing of the film, the audience was treated to a video made by Corin Hardy: telling them that they should have brought with them cold iron, a flashlight, and goggles. And it is by using these tools that the audience might see that while some trails in the forest of The Hallow might be predictable, Hardy does manage to build on and create a mythos: just as long as he protects that vision and keeps that light right in front of him.
The Hallow has a lot of very interesting ideas and ties into mythology well, but it isn't always consistent with regards to its own rules. Some more exploration of identity and family could have been interesting. But it incorporates the environment well into its world and the monsters are downright disturbing to see and experience.