'The Hallow' director: I'm not interested in horror movies without heart
Corin Hardy's new horror film "The Hallow" premiered to solid reviews at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is now slated for release via VOD and in limited theaters on Nov. 5th and 6th, respectively. Last week the director hopped on the phone with me to discuss his Edgar Wright-supported shocker, which sees a young family being terrorized by a race of humanoid creatures at their new country home in Ireland. The film surprised me with its mixture of horror theatrics, social commentary (deforestation) and real heart -- not to mention a moment that's certain to make anyone who harbors a fear of their optometrist squirm in their seats.
Read the full interview below; I've bolded the most essential highlights for speed-readers. In addition, you can check out a brand-new, HitFix-exclusive motion poster for the film above and below.
HitFix: There's a layer of social commentary to this that I wasn't expecting, with the deforestation issue. What did this film grow out of? Did it at all grow out of your concerns about deforestation and wanting to shine a light on that in a unique way?
I guess it did. I mean, I didn't ever want to make a movie with some kind of with in your face eco message that strays away from an entertaining, mysterious, scary horror movie. But at the same time, the woods were the key character in the movie always. And then through kind of exploring...I kind of uncovered -- I'm not from Ireland myself, I'm from England -- but...this idea that as a result of this sort of [the country's] economic struggle they were having to sell off parts of their forest. Which is sort of tragic and also lends itself to this idea of sacred places.
And I'm a big fan of nature. I grew up in the woods, which is partly why I wanted to tell this story. And I also like -- a lot of good genre movies have a connection to the times we're in. George Romero movies spring to mind. In just the right way, they're not kind of overbearing or preaching. I didn't want to do that. But I liked the idea of nature's revenge on man. What we've done to our planet lends itself quite well to the connection to fairies, mythology and folklore and the idea that...a race of beings has been driven from their lands by man. And it kinda comes back to haunt us.
HitFix: There's definitely nothing preachy about the movie. It really only kind of reveals itself in its full measure in that last panning shot at the end, which is a really interesting way to end it. I'm assuming those were real workers. How did they feel about you shooting there?
They were real workers. There's a few of us -- I might even possibly be in a cameo in that shot. But I wouldn't be able to say. But it was a real logging site. ...I can't kind of comment on what they were doing...I wouldn't want to condescend to what they were doing. But yeah, they were fine. I wanted to end [with] a scene that concludes the overall story, but [also leads into] the next story, maybe.
HitFix: Edgar Wright has been really, really supportive of the movie. He's introduced it at screenings and been really great about it. How crucial has his involvement been in getting the movie out there?
Well, he's been a good friend. We met when we were younger. ...Actually, I helped -- you know, he's got his film, 'A Fistful of Fingers,' his first movie is getting 20th year anniversary screenings at the moment. I actually worked on that...helped get the costumes for the lead actor, when we were about 17 or 18 or whenever it was. So he's just been very supportive as a fan of genre movies, and it was great having him introduce the film at Sundance, and he's gonna introduce it tomorrow night at Cinefamily. And I really appreciate it. He's been looking out for me.
HitFix: Another thing about this movie that really struck me is any horror movie that brings a baby into the mix almost automatically heightens the tension of the whole situation. The sound of a baby crying, for example -- it really kind of jangles the nerves. Was that something you had in mind when you were crafting the story?
Well, it definitely was intentional. But actually, I didn't really realize to what extent it would be a) a challenge to execute that on film -- not execute a baby, that would be terrible -- and also in terms of when you're writing -- I didn't realize that the baby was really a lead character and he's on screen for like 90 percent of the screen time. So it was a challenge to shoot, involving a pair of twins and a full animatronic baby, and...a stunt baby, and a Changeling. So it came with its challenges.
But it was also, when we were editing it, crucial to not exploit the screaming of the baby too much. ...When we did our first cut, for instance, we had maximum amount of baby crying, and we had to be careful and tone it down so it didn't become too much. It's a device, but it's also critical to the story. With the kind of idea of the new parents struggling to make the right decisions for the child, and then finding it's more difficult when this pressure and tension increases, with the pack of the Hallow coming from the forest. So yeah, I suppose I knew -- I hoped it would be intense, but it definitely jangled a few people, it seems.
HitFix: The effects in this movie seem to be almost entirely practical. I feel like I've seen a lot of really great practical effects work in recent horror movies, and I'm wondering: do you think the tide is turning back in that direction?
I mean, I wouldn't say turning back in the direction so much as it, hopefully anyway, filmmakers are realizing that the combination of techniques is the way forward. And it's amazing to be able to make a film grounded in practical effects, but to be able to utilize visual effects and CGI to enhance practical effects. Then it's the best of both worlds.
I've grown up loving practical effects and animatronics and makeup, so I'm a believer in performance driving -- as much as possible -- driving the effects or the character or the creatures. Because I think you cannot replace the performance of a good actor bringing to life whatever the creature is...certainly for me, on a low budget independent film, I was fearful of shooting a movie and then have it have such heavy post, and then I couldn't create the post production to the same level that I would have been able to practically, the movie would have fallen apart.
So it was a gamble to put a lot of effort into the pre-production of designing the creatures, casting the actors and the movement artists and creating full body suits and animatronics and puppetry and everything, and then another challenge to kind of augment it using digital effects. That's the way I like to do things, is very much a combination of different techniques, so you create an illusion that is something you can't pin down. I hope that I'm always gonna do things as practically as possible, because it's also just enjoyable.
HitFix: There's a great sustained moment in this movie where the long nail of one of the creatures comes perilously close to one of the character's eyes. It just brought to mind for me a scene in Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2." What inspired that shot for you?
Well, I've always grown up wearing glasses, since I was four years old. So I've always had regular eye tests and things coming towards my eyes, having to hold my eyes open while I got liquid squirted into them. Or sometimes I've had a needle in my eyeball, and it's kind of traumatic.
I'm kind of obsessed with eyes, because they're the most individual part of our human anatomy...sort of the gateway to emotion comes through our eyes. I'm sort of fascinated with them, they're constantly changing. So visually, I'm very attracted to them. And then at the same time, in a horror movie you're looking to unnerve. I wanted to create a constant build in tension and intensity.
There's something about the eyes being kind of that gateway into our character. ...[and that] it can be damaged or be warped in some way, or spread an infection that can spread beneath our skin and alter us. And then visually, the scene that you're talking about, along with a lot of my favorite movies, I wanted to do some subtle and maybe some not so subtle nods towards some of my favorites...you cannot watch that and almost like close your own eyes at the same time she does. So that was a good inspiration.
HitFix: I think the Lucio Fulci movie I was thinking of was "The Beyond," actually.
HitFix: But no, it very much had the effect that you wanted it to have, so congratulations.
Thanks. It's been nice watching the audience watch that.
HitFix: My favorite credit in the end credits is "fungal research advisor" --
[Laughs] I'm glad you saw it.
HitFix: How important was it for you to have this at least in part be based on real science?
It was important, because the whole movie -- it's an escape, it's a horror movie, it's fantasy, it's a fairytale. But at the same time, my mission was to try and create a fairytale that was grounded in reality. That kind of made you feel it could be real. And in order to do that, I wanted to look at getting the most authentic performances out of the actors, and use real locations and forests and practical effects.
So the science behind it came from a balance of research and mythology and folklore, and also science and nature, and finding a combination that could appear to be real. I saw a documentary on...a fungal infection in ants that David Attenborough had presented. And you know, when you see nature shows, they're way more imaginative and way more crazy and scary than the things we see in horror movies. So I think it was right to take from what was real.
The combination of this idea of being almost infected by a fairy was kind of married up with this fungal idea. And then actually my brother in law does this job for a living...he travels around forests assessing the health and wealth of the trees, and dictates when certain trees need to be cut down...So he was actually very helpful in writing the script, and also for the lead actor Joseph Mawle to kind of base his conservation knowledge on. It's a very real credit. I don't think there's probably ever been a "fungal research advisor" credit in any other movie.
HitFix: I watch a lot of horror movies, and sometimes I come away from a horror movie and it's just so unrelentingly dark and a lot of them end on a very dark and hopeless note. And I feel like yours doesn't do that. Sometimes I come away from some of those movies and I think 'god, this person must just hate people or something.' But you seem to really love people. Because it really does end -- not on a light note -- but it ends on a bit more of a hopeful note. I'm just curious, did you ever flirt with a darker ending for this?
It's a great question. I have not been asked that one, but it's nice to hear. First of all, I agree with you. I love horror movies and I love the end of 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre,' or you know, movies that end suddenly or bleakly. But I think I've grown tired of something that's just torturous and dark and bleak and grim for the sake of it. It doesn't really appeal to me.
But also, as someone who loves going to the cinema to escape from life and go into a movie, it doesn't have to be an uplifting, positive ending, but I do want there to be a sense of heart, at least, in it. And to leave the cinema feeling kind of elated. So I wanted to make a movie that was intense and dark and -- without giving away too much of what happens at the end, I wanted to find an ending that could be the right ending for the movie I was telling that was also, hopefully, you realize when you finish watching it, you've watched a fairytale. And there's a sense of tragedy, and there's a sense of heroics, an emotional kind of change.
So there is a darker ending...if you've seen the film, you can probably work out what it is. But I can't talk too much about that, otherwise I'd be giving it all away. But I like a sense of hope, whatever the story, however dark.
HitFix: There was a moment at the very end where I was like, 'am I going to cry right now?' It was actually quite moving.
That's nice to hear. I had a girl in London come up to me at the end of the screening, and she said she'd been crying...and it made her want to have a baby. She said, 'now I'm gonna go and have a baby. I've been thinking about it, and your film has made me want to have a baby.' So watch out, people who see the film, you're gonna maybe come away from it pregnant.