If ever there was a particular film genre that was fond of flogging a dead horse, filming it, and releasing increasingly poor, back to back sequels, right up until Dead horse XIII: The Floggening, it’s the horror genre. Take an idea like the slasher flick, created (arguably) by Bob Clarke with Black Christmas, popularised by John Carpenter’s Halloween and put out of its misery by the very silly Dr. Giggles many years and hundreds of movies later. It’s a subgenre that had every last drop of creativity and credibility wrung from it until the audience got wise and stopped watching. The found footage/mock-doc subgenre has proven even more susceptible to this tradition of flooding the marketplace with inferior product, not helped by the fact that all a ‘filmmaker’ requires to create one is a camera phone and a couple of friends who can hold their farts in for 5 minutes at a time. Finding a decent found footage horror is the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Hollow, a distinctly British entry into this overcrowded genre, is a deceptively simple tale of two couples who embark on a trip to the countryside, only for a series of strange, unexplained events to lead the group to the legend of an ancient evil that supposedly lurks in the grounds of a ruined monastery and the hollow of an old hanging tree.
Right off the bat, Hollow gets a lot right in regards to what makes a strong found footage movie. Atmosphere is absolutely key in creating tension and it’s something Hollow does rather well. Director Michael Axelgaard is far more interested in creating an ominous mood than cranking out a series of tired and predictable jump scares. Yes, there are a few cheap tricks here and there, but mercifully few when compared to, say, Grave Encounters, which is enjoyable in a goofy way, but not terribly frightening. Hollow instead follows the example of The Blair witch Project by refusing to show anything too tangible and instead rely on the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks. Many will moan that “nothing happens”, but it’s that lack of any huge event in the first hour that allows for a creeping atmosphere of dread to build, and the movie manages to maintain an unnerving edge where others lose patience.
Another strong element is the choice of location, both the monastery ruins and the hollow tree have real character and an intimidating presence that Hollow utilises to great effect. They’re the sort of places that legends and folk tales are often spun around, that children are afraid of, with a power that still registers as an adult.
Hollow also scores points in terms of characterisation, all four actors play real, authentic characters, and there are interesting relationships and dynamics within the group that not only add welcome layers to the story, but actually steer it for the most part. Rather than just expendable fodder, these characters are important to the development of both the story and the atmosphere, and all aquit themselves well, with Sam Stockman particularly effective as James, who despite being behind the camera for the majority of the movie is one of the driving forces of the story. The final act of the movie allows for a little more action and ramps up the fear quite impressively, building nicely towards a climax that it fluffs a little in the dying moments. The Blair witch… ended with an indelible, nightmarish image that is hard to forget, Hollow ends with an ill conceived and disappointing whimper that near wastes the good work before it, but not quite.
If you’re entirely sick of the found footage genre, or a fan of gore and grue over slow burn subtlety, then don’t rush to seek out Hollow. If however, you fancy seeing a uniquely British, well made low budget gem that credits its audience with a little intelligence and imagination, then you could do a whole lot worse.
DIRECTOR: MICHAEL AXELGAARD
WRITER: MATTHEW HOLT
STARS: EMILY PLUMTREE, SAM STOCKMAN, MATT STOKOE, JESSICA ELLERBY, SIMON ROBERTS
RUNTIME: 91 MINS APPROX