First published by TheHorrorShow
Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle) is a man conflicted. He has just moved, with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby Finn, from London to the backwoods of Ireland to survey the local forests for land clearance, but, as a conservationist, he has mixed feelings about the task at hand. Outwardly he seems a quiet, gentle man, and is a loving father to Finn, but we can tell from the way he reacts to unfriendly neighbour Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), or from his readiness to resort under pressure to a shotgun, that he is capable of anger and violence. And while he is prone to subjecting nature to the microscope, he will, when push comes to shove, turn to a book of fairytales for answers.
Once the Hitchens’ new home has been invaded by someone – or something – intent on making mischief, Adam will, as his body mutates, come to embody physically all these tensions between civilisation and nature, tradition and modernity, science and superstition, the human and the bestial (or is it vegetable?), and he will have to decide where his true allegiances lie.
The feature debut from video director Corin Hardy, The Hallow (aka The Woods) is essentially a nature’s revenge film. Here, whether through the supernatural agency of fairies, banshees and other creatures of local legend, or via the metamorphic mind control of a parasitic mushroom (a “˜fungal research adviser’ is included in the closing credits), the environment makes retaliatory claims on those who would trespass against its sanctity. As outsiders, and facilitators of future logging, Adam and his family find themselves targets of an aggressive home invasion, having ignored all warnings to keep away – and despite the setting in post-millennial Ireland, the association of human progress with iron, the corrupting presence of a dark gooey substance, and even the distinct resemblance of one rattling, head-rocking ‘fairy’ to a kodama, all point to the influence of Miyazaki Hayao’s animated environmentalist epic Princess Mononoke (1997).
Mixing puppetry, animatronics, costumes and CGI, Hardy has crafted a series of convincingly creepy critters to populate his woodland world – although the film’s biggest problem is a failure to bring much of a psychological dimension to their incursions. Even if the monsters here are mythologised, they remain a very literal reality that never seems to relate to the Hitchens’ internal dynamics, so that, for all the excellence of the cast’s performances, we never have much reason to engage with their characters or care about their fates. Still, this is an inventive ecological variant on Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, reconfiguring Celtic folklore for a more rationalist age.
© Anton Bitel