Jumping on the Cordyceps fungus-as-horror train is Corin Hardy’s eco-friendly The Hallow, starring Joseph Mawle as the frontrunner for world’s worst dad, an arborist who’s as likely to duck under logs for a closer look at a deer carcass with his infant son on his back as he is to ignore warnings about baby snatching spirits in the woods surrounding his cottage. Doing for Irish folklore what midi-chlorians did for the Force, it teases a rare encounter with ancient evil, but ends up reducing its deep and rich mythology to a deep and rich sentient black goop that won’t suffer humans encroaching on its borders.
Mawle’s Adam is living in a secluded cottage with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and infant son Finn, studying an Irish forest recently sold off to a logging company. Seen as a corporate stooge, he’s treated like an outcast by the locals, an arrangement that suits the maverick dork just fine as he hikes through the woods collecting samples. Whenever his intimidating neighbor Colm (Michael McElhatton) drops in, they mistake his insistent orneriness for hostility, and Adam dismisses him as a bully without ever hearing him out. If he did, he’d learn the dangers of simply living near the woods, much less venturing into it on a daily basis.Soon enough, the aforementioned black goop starts creeping closer to the cottage and Finn is targeted during a freaky home invasion, putting the surrounded family on the defensive against a malevolent and infectious threat.
The Hallow only takes a superficial interest in its mythological influences, not to mention its environmentalist subtext, but one thing Hardy does take seriously is the horror movie canon. The Hallow resembles several classics, including The Thing, Evil Dead, 28 Days Later, and up to and including woodsy faux folk horror Mama, too. If you can forgive the gentle bait and switch, you’ll find yourself enjoying a miniature siege horror movie that tries, and often enough succeeds at, capturing the rawness and seclusion of its predecessors, while being drawn into the family’s increasingly desperate struggle to survive. Its scares may lean toward the traditional, but it boasts some tangibly dingy special effects, and rides very high on Mawle’s and Novakovic’s heartbreaking performances. Add in a guest appearance by Michael Smiley and it completes its penance for taking the straightest path through its monsters-in-the-woods scenario.