British writer-director Corin Hardy’s debut feature riffs heavily on video nasty-era horror films like The Evil Dead (a thumpingly sinister book of black magic) and The House By The Cemetery (as in many Lucio Fulci films, eyes are especially threatened). However, it has an earthy, forest-y Irish setting which taps into local folklore — as delivered by a welcome Michael Smiley as an exposition-spouting local copper — and hints at contemporary social context as we learn the fairies’ ancient forest has been bought by an exploitative corporation, perhaps prompting nasty reprisals.
After an ominous introductory section, replete with unfriendly locals whose warnings go unheeded and incomers who do foolish things like take down the protective window-bars, The Hallow goes into overdrive and delivers an effective succession of shocks. A glowering Joseph Mawle suffers a supernatural fungus infestation and begins to change into a spiky woodland creature, while crawling, spindle-limbed beasties besiege his isolated cottage with destructive intent. There’s also a nasty take on the old changeling folk tale as the hysterical parents clash over whether the baby in the crib is theirs or a baleful, inhuman replacement.
Bojana Novakovic gets the Shelley Duvall-in-The-Shining gig of fending off both a mad, transformed husband and an assault of supernatural phenomena, but isn’t quite given enough to do to ground the horrors in domestic concerns. The use of Irish lore makes for a change of pace in what is still basically a cabin-in-the-woods picture, though the hallow themselves owe more to recent fright-flick fiends like the crawlers of The Descent or the feral vampires of Stakeland than authentic Celtic myth. Still, they are effectively used for jump scares and let’s not forget how Oirish horror took a detour to find a pot o’ shite at the end of the rainbow in the Leprechaun franchise.
It’s not difficult to see where things are going, but The Hallow does its job well enough to get by. No new ground is broken, but the point of folklore is to tell the old tales again.