Like Winter’s Bone mixed with Blue Ruin, but set in Canada with a lesbian protagonist.
Hollow in the Land luxuriates in the tropes common to the subgenre of thrillers about poor white people. All the signifiers associated with white trash are included: bonfires, drugs, a trailer park, a plethora of firearms, loud pickup trucks, men with names like “Earl” and “Darrell” and so on. The film, it seems, aspires to be the Canadian version of a Winter’s Bone, with its hyperbolically serious tone. But with its cast of characters and over-the-top teen-drama plot, it would be better suited to take up the mantle of “Shameless” or “Pretty Little Liars.” Instead, Hollow in the Land is plagued by serious issues with plot, a contempt for its setting and the people who inhabit it and too many half-baked tokens of its various subgenres.
Hollow in the Land takes place in a backwater Canadian mill town, the sort of hard-scrabble, class-stratified town that reveals the cracks in our socioeconomic structures. It focuses on the Miller family, a ne’er-do-well crew that features a runaway mother, a father in prison, and two children, the youngest of whom is 17. The protagonist is the oldest of the Miller progeny, Alison (Dianna Agron), who works at the mill to keep a roof over her brother, Brandon’s (Jared Abrahamson), head until he reaches legal adulthood. Their father spoiled the family name a year before the events in the film when he drunkenly held up a convenience store and then accidentally struck and killed the mill owner’s son with his truck while attempting his getaway.
The narrative gets quite convoluted at the end of the first act in order to set up the crime thriller-cum-family drama plot machinations. The gist is that Brandon is the prime suspect in the murder of a violent, drunken man and has disappeared into the hills around town. Alison is certain of her brother’s innocence and sets out to prove it.
What ensues is an alphabet soup of hackneyed plot devices of rural menace, rust-belt desperation and white trash malfeasance. The police are either incompetent or crooked or both; the town is still out on the Millers and work against Alison throughout the film; there are implied networks of gambling, drug trafficking and other assorted criminal activities and everybody but Alison, who for no good narrative reason is also a lesbian, is portrayed as some unholy combination of stupid, drunk, greedy, myopic, racist, misogynist, selfish and/or a second helping of stupid.
As if throwing every possible trite narrative device and stock character into a blender and turning it up to large-hadron-collider-speed is not enough to sink a film and make it boring, Hollow in the Land also faces larger issues with its plot. For instance, why would the viewer believe the whole town would hold Brandon responsible for the man’s death? The dead man was a known drinker and brute and it is well known that on the night he was killed he was both plastered and raging mad; he was undoubtedly the one who initiated any violent confrontation that may have resulted in his being killed. Who would jump immediately to the conclusion that a teenager murdered him rather than acted self-defensively? Only a town full of stupid, awful people. Another major issue: apparently this is the only town in North America where people are more likely to own multiple firearms than a cell phone. Combine this with the fact that Alison transitions from nearly-dead after being shot in the chest to fully healed and functioning after a 12-hour nap (you can’t make this stuff up!) and Hollow in the Land becomes a real head-scratcher.
The thought process that led writer-director Scooter Corkle to develop this film and to pitch it to funders is clear: it is like Winter’s Bone mixed with Blue Ruin, but set in Canada with a lesbian protagonist. The execution, however, is lacking, so that instead it comes across as a crass manipulation of metropolitan elites’ ignorance of how poor rural folk live. It does not even do this well, really; the two films above could be accused of the same shortcomings, as could much recent journalism on Appalachia and the bestselling book Hillbilly Elegy. Hollow in the Land is also poorly made, so that it fails even at its nefarious ambition to make New York liberals nod paternalistically at the travails of their country cousins.