(director/writer: Corin Hardy; screenwriter: story by Hardy/Felipe Marino; cinematographer: Martijn Van Broekhuizen; editor: Nick Emerson; music: James Gosling; cast: Joseph Mawle (Adam Hitchens),  Bojana Novakovic (Clare Hitchens),  Michael McElhatton (Colm Donnelly), Michael Smiley (Garda Davey), Gary Lydon (Doyle); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino; IFC Midnight; 2015-Ireland)

“An atmospheric haunted-house fright tale involving paranormal activities, ecological themes, folklore tales and lots of scares.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The debut feature film for visual artist Irish filmmaker Corin Hardy is a daunting one. It’s an atmospheric haunted-house fright tale involving paranormal activities, ecological themes, folklore tales and lots of scares (in fact it’s a scare film and nothing more despite framing the story through a clash between Irish folklore mysticism and the new world of science). The old-fashioned horror film follows along the monster lines of The Evil Dead (1983) and even has touches in it that can remind one of how in Straw Dogs (1971) the locals treated the newcomers so badly. Co–writers Hardy and Felipe Marino are good at building up the tension and using the monsters created by their talented production crew to advance the story line. It results in a sticky and unresolved gory third act (obviously calling for a sequel), while in the first two acts the usual horror pic set pieces can keep you satisfactorily occupied while you wait for the promising finale to unfold.

It’s based on a story by Corin Hardy.

A serious young married couple — Adam (Joseph Mawle) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic) —with their infant son and family dog, relocate from London to live on a remote island in Ireland, in a rundown country mill house that’s surrounded by a forest. Spotting so many trees on the grounds cheers up the tree doctor, who can’t wait to mark them. Adam’s gung-ho about being hired as a conservationist for a government-sponsored project in the area, but his surly farmer neighbor Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton) sternly warns the couple that his work has upset the spirits of the forest and that will make it unsafe for everyone in the community if he doesn’t go back home. At first, the couple dismiss the warning as rubbish, coming from a superstitious people living in the past, but when they remain despite being warned you know there’s going to be big trouble ahead for them.

Things start popping in the opening scene when Adam brings home some black goo from the forest to put under the microscope and soon finds his house is infested with a strange parasitic fungus, one that can control the minds of ants and can create a “zombie fungus.” Things soon become more spooky for the protective dad and his loyal but vulnerable wife when the woods unleash many different kinds of nasty supernatural creatures that prey on children.

The pic is steeped in Irish lore, warning us not to mess with mother nature or else. Mawle, Novakovic and McElhatton though not playing developed characters (but who seem like ciphers) nevertheless give convincing performances as real people; the score by James Gosling is eerie; the photography by Martijn Van Broekhuizen is artistically arresting; and the assortment of animatronics, puppetry and prosthetics, along with CG created effects, created by a gifted staff of visual artists, work well in a story charged with bringing on a visibly hostile array of fairies and banshees.

Hardy, in the closing-credits, offers a genuine heartfelt dedication to those great luminaries who came before him as visual artists, Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith and Stan Winston.

Sundance Film Festival The Hallow