If you’ve graduated from Disney to the Brothers Grimm, then you know that fairy tales can be dark and disturbing, even creepy. And if you’ve dug even deeper to the folk tales the Grimms’ writings were based on, then you know they can be downright scary. That’s what you have with The Hallow — a modern day Irish faerie tale that doesn’t pull any punches.
Adam (Joseph Mawle, a.k.a. Benjen Stark), a tree doctor working for an unspecified corporation, moves into a very old house in the middle of the Irish woods with his wife, Claire, and their infant son. Adam’s job is to identify trees for removal, a fact that doesn’t sit well with his neighbors or make him welcome in their neck of the woods. Which is why when strange things start happening, Adam and Claire are quick to believe that their neighbors are trying to frighten them into leaving. After one particularly frightening incident, they finally call the police. The Garda who answers their call is sympathetic enough, but admonishes them to be patient with their more superstitious neighbors, who still believe that the woods belong to the Hallow, the First Folk, “banshees and baby stealers and the like,” and are afraid of what these forest spirits might do when their trees get taken away. Naturally, as a scientist, Adam believes this is complete rubbish.
And just as naturally, he is soon convinced otherwise as he and his wife must fight to protect their son from relentless and increasingly violent attempts at abduction.
When I decided to check out The Hallow on Netflix, I was in the mood for something genuinely scary but not the kind of scary that would stay with me and make me too afraid to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and this fit that bill perfectly.
It reminded me a lot of The Descent, in that while I found that movie terrifying in the moment, and while I wouldn’t want to go spelunking any time soon, I wouldn’t be worried that an albino cave CHUD would be lurking under my bed waiting to grab my ankle as soon as I set a foot on the floor, or hiding in the closet waiting for an opportune time to stab me with a giant knife. Also like The Descent, and like any good John Carpenter horror flick, The Hallow has a nicely slow build, gradually ratcheting up the tension until finally you’re plunged onto a relentless roller coaster, twisting and turning and plunging you deeper into terrifying darkness until the end.
This movie works on a couple of different levels. Not only is it an effective horror flick, but it also serves as a gut-wrenching and heartbreaking reminder that for centuries people truly believed that this sort of thing was a reality, and of the disturbing and often tragic ends real people went to in order to combat this perceived threat.
If you like an unflinching exploration of Celtic folklore, particularly stories involving changelings; if you like Joseph Mawle; or if you like movies that provide plenty of fun scares without making you lie awake at night worrying that a Japanese ghost will crawl out of your TV and murder you to death, you should definitely give The Hallow a try while it’s still available on Netflix.
And as a bonus rec, whether you decide to watch the movie or not, you might also enjoy the Lore podcast episode “Black Stockings,” which takes a look at real-life tragedies wrought by unwavering belief in the changeling myth.