Hollow (UK, 2012)
I almost turned Hollow off within seconds of starting it. While I love horror cinema in almost all its forms, I would be very happy if I never saw another sodding found-footage film. They have infested the genre since The Blair Witch Project, and the success of Paranormal Activity cemented the idea that these low-budget efforts can generate huge returns. A depressingly large number of recent horror releases have adopted the format, and my heart sinks every time I start watching a new film that opens with the jerky movements of a camcorder.
My main objections to the format are that the lack of artful cinematography, editing and incidental music tend to undermine their ability to create tension and atmosphere, and that I find myself constantly taken out of the film by wondering why the hell one of the protagonists is filming a scene when their priorities should be elsewhere. Too many sequences which aim to be horrific just end up being sounds of screaming and the blur of a camera being jerked around. I can’t think of a single found-footage film that I wouldn’t have preferred in a more traditional format.
While Hollow isn’t free from these problems, it does at least manage to generate some unease, and is largely saved by engaging characters, strong acting and atmospheric locations.
Hollow follows two couples visiting Dunwich in Suffolk (yes, it’s a real place, as Matt’s article on his visit there shows) to clear out the cottage of the recently deceased grandfather of one of them. Various articles in the cottage reveal the grandfather’s obsession with legends about a local tree where many couples have hanged themselves. As the friends explore the legend and the surrounding countryside, they find themselves increasingly disturbed by what they discover. Old secrets and resentments begin to taint their relationships. Ultimately these collide with the legend, resulting in tragedy.
It is in these relationships and their upheavals that Hollow is strongest. The characters are defined and portrayed well, and their disintegration is at least as compelling as any apparent supernatural threat.
There is something of M R James to the legend at the heart of Hollow. Its use of a cursed tree brings to mind James’ The Ash-Tree, and Suffolk is home to a number of his stories. The horror in Hollow is less explicitly supernatural, though — the events are ambiguous, and lend themselves as much to rational interpretation as a ghostly one.
The use of a ruined abbey for a number of the outdoor sequences lends Hollow a goodly amount of atmosphere. The location is supposed to be Greyfriars Abbey in Dunwich, but the film’s IMDB page states that the film-makers used nearby Leiston Abbey instead. None of the film was actually shot in Dunwich, with most of it having been filmed in Lincolnshire.
The connection to the ghost stories of East Anglia adds a degree of depth, though, and the name of Dunwich will grab the attention of many horror fans. In fact, Dunwich was the original name of the film, which seems to have confused people on the IMDB, leading to the film being listed as a remake of The Dunwich Horror. This is not the case, and there are no Lovecraftian aspects to Hollow at all.
Despite the found-footage format, Hollow manages to build up a reasonable amount of tension. The climax is overlong and loses some momentum, but not fatally so. While Hollow won’t be a film I go out of my way to recommend to people, or probably even remember for long, I am happy that I didn’t hit the stop button immediately.