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A Review of "The Hallow" (2015)

After seeing The Hallow, I think I need to add another code to my bullshit movie rating system.  Something like, "ONSO," or "Only Need to See Once."  It's a solid movie that I never want to see again.

The premise is incredibly simple: a young couple and their baby son move into an old house in the Irish countryside and run afoul of creepy forest monsters.  Terror ensues.

There's a teeny tiny bit of social commentary here and there.  The father works for a logging company that's cutting down large swaths of forest, so when the monsters pop up and wreak havoc, the implication is that nature is fighting back.  But The Hallow barely even aspires to Dawn of the Dead levels of metaphor, and considering that DotD is only two steps above somebody looking at the camera and saying, "Get it?", that's saying something.

What I mean is, it's a horror movie first and foremost.  The Hallow knows exactly what it's trying to do and doesn't pull any punches.

Sadly, that's a good summary of why I never want to watch this movie again.  It's a little too much for me.

Let's not beat around the bush.  Are you a parent?  Do you have any particular affinity for kids or any sense of uneasiness when they're in danger in a movie?  Then don't watch this.  I'll get into spoilers later, but the short story is that The Hallow is like 10% atmosphere, 15% creature effects, 5% eye trauma, and 70% infant in peril.  It's tough to hash out how I feel about that.

The Hallow is incredibly effective at what it does.  The shots are gorgeous, the special effects are well done and utilized to maximum effect, the pacing, acting, music, and script are all solid, and the imagery is so well done that you will feel at unease every second.  All of this adds up to some of the worst scares I've seen in recent memory.  I can't remember the last time I watched a movie through the cracks of my fingers like this.

Even the most basic visual concept it tries to get across is gut-wrenching.  There's a recurring motif of black, spiky muck that spreads through the forest like a disease.  It's never explained fully, but the implication is that it's literal evil.  Seeing it appear on things gave me a visceral reaction - like seeing a bunch of maggots on rotting meat.

And that barely touches the worst of it.  Leaving aside the moments of pure, unbridled grossness - and it has those, don't you worry - The Hallow's greatest strength is finding the worst possible thing to happen at any moment and either dancing right at the edge of it, or throwing you headfirst into it.

Probably the most unnerving sequence (and what will perhaps become the most iconic, since it involves a scythe being set on fire) involves the father struggling with a possible demonic infection and wordlessly setting about at some task of unknown intent.  All you know for sure is that it will involve a baby and a fiery scythe.  So you basically have to spend the next ten minutes wondering what horrible thing may or may not happen.

Spoilers (highlight to reveal): And even when it turns out that he's not going to kill his son - which you really expect him to since he held a knife to an infant's face only a few minutes earlier while babbling incoherently (long story, but it makes sense in context) - the movie still refuses to back off from some extremely unsettling imagery.  A key plot twist at the very end involves a demonic infant changeling that was swapped out for the couple's kid.  How is that resolved?  By having the demon baby's head explode outward in a grotesque skin bloom.  The Hallow is a movie where even the happy ending involves a baby dying.

In short, it's a gut-wrenching, horrifying movie, and that's a credit to the filmmakers.  But when something starts to feel borderline harrowing, is it really something you want to recommend?  I don't know.  Hard to say.

If you want to make up your own mind, you can stream The Hallow right now on Netflix.  I think I'm going to give it a 4 / 5, but that's definitely got to come with an asterisk.