Tragically, western films seems to be more and more dividing up into two categories budget wise. There is either the huge tent pole features released by the studios around the world aiming to make a billion dollars, or there is the tiny micro budget numbers hoping to make a couple of quid on iTunes. The upshot of this “business model” is that many talented folk with no money have, at times, risen to the occasion and have made some fantastic horror movies on next to nothing. However if they have wanted to make a monster movie it has become next to impossible.
This is because an effective movie monster is not in any way cheap. Gone are the days when Roger Corman could have a couple of hokey looking salmon men running around ravishing women. Modern audiences just won’t accept a phoney looking monster – I guess once you’ve seen the Balrog in Lord of the Rings every other monster has to be good too. A small budget film maker can find a big chunk of her cash disappear up a well made rubber suit, or over a cg team in a basement in Soho, before she knows what’s hit her. So unless you want your monster effects look like a Sharknado (and no one wants their effects to look like Sharknado) then you will avoid putting monsters in your film altogether. You’ll put a chap in a mask or make a naked old granny stand in a car park or something.
So its a shock to discover that flying in the face of this dearth of creature features along comes a little Irish film called The Hallow with not one beast but a whole host of monsters. And thank God for that.
Director Corin Hardy obviously wants to get on with things because the set up is kept right down to a minimum. A couple with their baby and dog (yeah RIP Iggy, lyou were doomed from the moment you wagged your happy little tail on screen) have moved to a country cottage in the middle of bumfuck nowhere in Ireland. The husband is doing tests on the nearby woods which are due to be chopped up by some big bad wood chopping company, so naturally the locals say he needs to leave, and leave now before it is too late, because that’s what locals do. Next thing you know the house is surrounded by weird creatures of the night who are trying to steal their baby.
And that, storywise, is your lot.
We’re off with weird eyes popping out of the dark, gloopy black slime dribbling on baby sheets and eyeballs being pierced before you know it. On the one hand it is good that we don’t hang around for too long before it all goes to shit in a slimy basket, after all its a couple with a baby, the monsters want the baby, what more do you need to know? However I wouldn’t have minded getting to know the pair before hand so I could care a little more. It helps that the couple in question are played by Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic, both fine, recognisable actors (who take the proceedings seriously) so we know them a little bit already, even if we don’t really know them. The baby is given no character development at all though and has to rely on the old crying baby cliché to try and get any sense of his character across.
Anyway, this isn’t to say that Hardy skimps on scenes of tension and suspense, its just that the monsters arrive early enough that we can just get on with it. Even then he takes his time to reveal them properly. There is an excellent scene where Mawle is trapped in the boot of his car with baby in the back seat. He is desperately trying to get to his child before the surrounding beasts snatch him and the whole thing is shot in excruciating close up. We never even see the monsters then, we only see the aftermath of broken windows and nail scratches down the side of the car. But the threat is all there. It doesn’t take long for our couple to realise that it’s not the locals who are the problem (although these monsters do live locally so I guess they count), and the majority of the film is a chase to survive the night and keep their baby alive.
The monsters themselves are kept enough in the dark until late in the day that we don’t ever get bored of them and there are lots of varieties – kind a mixture of Aliens, Evil Deadites and Celtic folklore, but with enough of their own spin to give them pretty good identities of their own, although not iconic enough to start off a franchise.
But then The Hallow isn’t trying to start a series of movies which eventually end up in space when the makers run out of ideas. Its just trying to be a small, intimate and exciting creature feature that just doesn’t get made enough any more. And it succeeds at that with style.