Ireland is slowly edging its way onto the world stage as a source for quality horror films. Shrooms (2007), Citadel (2012), and Grabbers (2012), among others, have proven that the Irish know a thing or two about producing engaging, frightening horror for international audiences, while still holding on to a distinctly Irish identity. The Hallow, directed by Corin Hardy, who collaborated on the script with Felipe Marino, is a film that combines aspects of several different horror subgenres, namely creature-features and body-horror, and centers the story around ancient Irish mythology and fairytales. The film opens with an excerpt from The Book of Invasions (c. 1150), a collection of poems that attempts to chronicle the history of Ireland and its people. The quote reads, “Hallow be their name, and blessed be their claim. If you who trespass put down roots, then Hallow be your name.”
At the start we see a young couple, Adam and Claire, played by Joseph Mawle (Game of Thrones) and Bojana Novakovic (Devil, Edge of Darkness), respectively. They stand aboard a small boat sailing along the scenic Irish coastline, holding their infant son, Finn, as they contemplate their new lives in Ireland. The family has decided to leave the hustle and bustle of London for a remote cottage in the Irish wilderness. Adam, who is an expert botanist, intends to study the surrounding woods, presumably for the sake of preserving and protecting the ecosystem, though this is never expressly stated.
While still getting settled in the new house, Adam takes Finn out for a walk, where he discovers a deer carcass in which strange microbes are growing, creating spiky protrusions and thick, black sludge. Always the diligent researcher, Adam can’t help but take a sample back to the house for further investigation. Meanwhile, their new neighbor, Colm, played by Michael McElhatton (Game of Thrones), insists that Adam must stop working in the woods, claiming that it is private property. Naturally, they dismiss him as an unhinged hillbilly. After the window in baby Finn’s room suddenly breaks during the night, they suspect Colm, but soon even more strange phenomena occur as Adam and Claire begin to unravel the mystery of the land on which they have chosen to “put down roots.”
Like any good horror film, The Hallow works to set up several dichotomies in the narrative: the city vs. the country, industrialization vs. nature, human vs. monster, and so on. These all work together to create a story that not only enhances the horror, but reinforces interesting themes at the same time. In The Hallow, science and fairytales, which are so often put at odds in horror films, are uniquely blended. The monsters in the film are products of both ancient fables and modern science. Despite this interesting blend, the filmmakers still use the tired theme of over-confident “city folk” moving into the country, where they are met by the strange and hostile “natives” who try to warn them about the evil lurking nearby. Needless to say, their warnings go unheeded.
Taken solely as a horror film, The Hallow is more technically impressive than frightening, though it is definitely frightening at times. The film is beautifully shot, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere in the dark woodlands of Ireland. The principal characters play their parts well, portraying a loving couple who simply want to keep their child safe, at whatever cost. Where The Hallow really excels is the back-story. Director Corin Hardy took what could have been a simple creature-feature and adapted it to be uniquely Irish, utilizing combinations of different Celtic tales and folklore, including that of the “far darrig” and “changelings.” The whole thing works well, and doesn’t suffer too much from the usual horror clichés, though the second act verges on reverting back to the familiar game of cat-and-mouse between the couple and the creatures that lurk in the woods. Nonetheless, we are witness to what turns out to be a surprisingly intimate portrayal of a family just trying to survive against an onslaught of ancient evil.
In summary, The Hallow is a great film. It hits the mark in so many ways, and while it certainly has a few shortcomings, it exceeds expectations far more often than it disappoints. if you are a fan of creature-features or body-horror, or you are simply intrigued by Irish folklore, The Hallow is a must-see.
The Hallow is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Or it can be purchased on Amazon.
Rating: ★★★★ out of 5