We should count ourselves lucky nature doesn't generally seem to know what it's doing. A young family finds out just how bad it can be to earn the wrath of powerful forest beings in 2015's The Hallow, a rigorously effective horror film reliant on sharp but subtle character work.
Adam (Joseph Mawle) and Claire (Bojana Novakovic) have come to live in a beautiful old house in a remote, beautiful Irish forest. Unfortunately, they're there because Adam is working with a company preparing to deforest the area. The local people try to warn Adam and Claire about the Hallow, or fae folk, who will not look kindly on trespassers. A scientist, Adam doesn't listen, of course.
The film begins with a wonderful piece of tension as Adam wanders the woods, taking samples of weird black goo, with his and Claire's baby Finn in a harness on his back. One has to remember Adam doesn't know he's in a horror movie before saying, "Why the hell are you going into that creepy cottage with your baby on your back? Why are you handing weird goo when you have your baby?!" But it's entirely credible. People probably do get too accustomed to carrying their babies everywhere and just don't think, particularly a scientist on the trail of some weird new organism.
So the Hallow appear to have some basis in fantasy science. I wonder if audiences would accept the idea of them being magical anymore. Maybe not. Otherwise, from amongst the influences cited by director Corin Hardy, the film most resembles The Evil Dead as the bulk of the movie features the protagonists fighting for their lives against a menace from the dark woods at night whose powers are unpredictable and possibly unstoppable.
There's even a book that resembles The Evil Dead's version of the Necronomicon.
Unlike The Evil Dead, though, there are a few consistent ground rules. Like the fact that the Hallow are put off by iron and light. The latter makes the film's bad lighting choices particularly unfortunate. I always dislike bright flood lights used for night in the country--the potential for tension from a realistically pitch black forest was mined again and again in cheaper horror films from the 70s. Here, though, it's a particularly odd choice when Adam and Claire are trying to get the generator working to turn on the house lights while it appears to be broad daylight outside.
Some of the lighting makes the forest look really pretty but there are other ways to create beauty on screen that doesn't sabotage the logic of the horror.
The only other problem I had with the film was its pretty unimaginative sound design. The Hallow make that same dry throat clucking noise the ghost kids from Japanese horror films make. I wonder if there's a name for it.
Visually, the Hallow are great combinations of costumes and make-up with really lovely designs that support the concept of it being some kind of disease that causes derangement along with physical changes.
The movie mainly works, though, because of the constant sense of guilt that comes along with the punishment the Hallow seek to inflict on Adam and his family. Adam loves nature and he has to deal with the fact that he works for a company that wants to destroy it, something he may have suppressed but is forced to face in the form of living monsters.