The Hallow, a genuinely freaky, Ireland-set haunted forest tale, is far better than what is suggested by the pulp-magazine style image that represents it in the Netflix horror section. Though it follows a relatively predictable trajectory and pulls too many punches, The Hallow is still a creative, creepy, atmospheric horror flick that is well worth a watch on a lazy evening.

The directorial debut of English director Corin Hardy (who co-wrote with Felipe Marino), The Hallow follows conservationist Adam (played by the striking Joseph Mawle, best known as half-undead Uncle Benjen on “Game of Thrones) who, along with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic, “Shameless”) and infant son Finn, moves to an ancient, remote Irish forest in order to maintain and hopefully prolong the forest’s lifespan. The neighbors – particularly the grumpy Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton, also a “Game of Thrones” alum) – warn Adam not to disturb the trees, but of course he doesn’t listen.

As it turns out, the forest is home to a race of demonic beasties, evil fairies who decide that defending their home isn’t enough – they want baby Finn, too. The pace is brisk and the action gets moving pretty quickly for a creature feature, as such films usually withhold the “reveal” of the monster until the film’s climax. The Hallow wisely showcases its villains, which were designed by British special effects artist John Nolan. Nolan appealingly uses mostly practical effects in the style of the legendary Stan Winston.

The creatures, in combination with gloomily magical camera work by cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen give The Hallow the feeling of an evil fairy tale, particularly in scenes set in the depths of the forest. The monsters are allergic to light and grow bolder as evening shadows start to spread, leading to one particularly intense scene that finds Adam locked in the trunk of his car at sunset while baby Finn sits alone in the backseat. The action becomes more predictable when the fairies chase Adam, Clare and Finn into their house and terrorize them there, turning The Hallow into a more stereotypical horror affair. The tension slips down yet another notch when Adam finds himself infected by the forest baddies and the action swerves into 28 Days Later territory as he battles against the evil inside himself while chasing Clare and Finn around the house.

Despite the slackening pace as the film progresses, Mawle gives a hell of a performance, alternating between terrified and terrifying in the blink of an eye, aided greatly by excellent make-up and his own bewildering facial features. Novakovic also gives an effective performance as tough mama Clare, particularly when she is forced to choose between her husband and her child. She’s a refreshing character in that she doesn’t wait for her husband to save her; instead, Novakovic beautifully portrays her dawning realization that Adam is no longer on her side.

The Hallow’s monsters are unique but also effective in the grand tradition of movie monsters like those in Pumpkinhead and Gremlins. They don’t quite reach the heights of Alien’s xenomorph and the creature from The Thing, but Hardy’s work here definitely suggests he could approach those heights with a bigger budget. Unfortunately, the strength of the creatures and the atmosphere makes The Hallow’s shortcomings more evident. The film is especially strong when the dread is at its most suffocating, but as the film progresses it starts to hold back and the monsters feel like less of a threat just as the tension should be increasing. Also, inventive scares like a tree needle in the eye and a switched baby are offset by a predictably tortured family dog (which should just be banned; it’s too easy and sad rather than scary) and the aforementioned household frights.

The talent and design on display in The Hallow is certainly good enough to recommend it, and it is no surprise that director Corin Hardy has been snatched up by Warner Bros. to direct the next Conjuring universe film, The Nun. However, the magical, malevolent critters of The Hallow could have been part of a classic if Hardy had committed to making it a scarier, harsher experience. Here’s hoping for a follow-up sometime in the near future.

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