Corin Hardy: The Hallow is “Straw Dogs meets Pan’s Labyrinth”

We talk to Corin Hardy about his intense horror movie The Hallow

Bojana Novakovic protects her child from the creatures in The Hallow

After gaining a huge amount of buzz on the festival circuit, from Sundance to FrightFest, Corin Hardy’s Irish horror movie The Hallow is finally hitting UK cinemas on Friday. It’s an intense creature feature that stars Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic as a couple who realise that the locals aren’t the only unfriendly ones in the Irish woods they’ve moved to. There’s something in the trees, and it’s coming for them…

Blending influences from Guillermo del Toro and Studio Ghibli to David Cronenberg and Straw Dogs, The Hallow boasts excellent creature effect and proper scares.

We had the chance to talk to Hardy about his inspirations, influences and why practical effects are just better.

So was wanting to do something with this Irish folklore the inspiration for the film?

The inspiration was certainly wanting to tell a tale with new monsters, and looking for new monsters that weren’t zombies and werewolves and vampires. That took me back to fairytales and the essence of mythology, and then it was a case of looking for portrayals of fairies in a way that was darker and more dangerous for a horror movie.

In a lot of the original old, and particularly Irish, mythology, fairies aren’t necessarily friendly Tinkerbells. So once I delved deep into that it became a very exciting prospect of wanting to try this kind of folklore in a contemporary way that felt real.

It does feel like these kind of creatures don’t really translate well very often in horror, unless you’re Guillermo del Toro…

I mean, Pan’s Labyrinth was a big inspiration, and Guillermo del Toro is someone whose films I fell in love with when I saw Cronos and Devil’s Backbone. And there’s not a lot of people really honouring creatures with both attention to detail and visualisation, and telling stories that aren’t either just purely fantastical kids stories or horror movies that I love as well, but wanting to find a way that the fantasy and mythology side could fit into a reality was the challenge.

My original pitch was Straw Dogs meets Pan’s Labyrinth, as in a fairy tale brought to life in reality that was terrifying. So that went down well, but actually trying to find that balance…because I think fairy tales and Gothic horror and more child oriented movies, you can get away with the idea of mythology and fairies quite easily because you’re in that world. So people’s question was “Well, what are they going to be like, how are you going to balance that mythology with science and reality?” And that was probably the biggest challenge of telling the story, writing the script and cutting the movie.

Joseph Mawle as Adam in The Hallow
Joseph Mawle as Adam in The Hallow

It definitely helps that the characters do feel relatable, and that the deforestation message does feel relevant.

Absolutely, I think for a horror movie to really hit home, you have to be able to identify with the protagonists and they’re everyday people in that sense, with the same problems that we have. I was always looking and researching for what Adam’s job would be and a friend of mine who’s a Dutch Elm Disease inspector, he was filling me in on the conservationist side of things, and at the same time whilst racing in Ireland and revising the script, we learnt of this crisis they were having which resulted in them selling off large areas of forest. So it wasn’t the big intention at the beginning to have some underlying connection to a message and a social current situation but it’s always good, I think, when that taps into something. Rather than something that you can’t understand.

That also felt reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films where nature is this presence that must be respected, like the violence of Princess Mononoke…

I’m a huge fan, and particularly Princess Mononoke, and that’s also a real interesting balance tonally, it’s gory and it’s frightening and it’s beautiful, and the Kadames, the strange ticking creatures were a real inspiration as well. I think you want it to feel like nature has somehow evolved and created, whether it’s supernaturally or scientifically, something to take its revenge on us. The creatures in Princess Mononoke have that strange connection to organic nature and writhing mass of darkness.

The cast in the film is great. It’s particularly good to see someone like Joseph Mawle in a lead role.

I’m glad to hear it. There seems to have been a really good reaction so far to Bojana, Michael McElhatton and Michael Smiley, who I think have all done incredible performances, and it’s nice to hear people really agreeing that Joe Mawle’s fantastic and deserves these lead roles, because whilst writing it I had him in mind. I’ve always been an admirer of his characters and his dedication and the emotional power in his performances. He just always gives a lot, beyond what I think a lot of actors give on screen.

I thought it would be really interesting to get someone, setting out to make a horror movie, absolutely, but trying to make fresh decisions with the cinematographer, the cast, the editor, the way of doing the effects, and trying to create something that was as fresh and beautiful as it could be within the limitations of the kind of movie it was. So looking at other movies of this kind that inspired me which I love, which was everything from Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, all incredible, Oscar-worthy performances in a horror movie where all hell breaks loose, and they all happen to also be movies which have sensational effects and there’s a quality in the standard set by them and I non-arrogantly wanted to try and aim for that.

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And then there are the creature effects, which look absolutely fantastic.

I’m thrilled to hear that and I’m really excited to see the reaction so far, because when you make a movie and you make the decisions on what you’re going to do for real in camera and in post, you’re trusting your gut. I was both a big fan of practical effects in the ’70s and ’80s when they didn’t really have the reliance on post and CG that we have now, but it wasn’t just a nostalgic thing, it’s also a belief that you can achieve something that can possibly be more terrifying, feel more real and grounded with a low budget particularly.

You could say it’s all very well doing things in post and CG, but if you see low budget CG and it doesn’t look good then you’re really screwed, and it’s the same with practical effects if they’re not good enough, but I felt if we tried to create everything as much for real in camera as we could we can get as much out of it as possible and then we’ll use a lot of sleight of hand, visual effects trickery, to achieve what I like to think is a result you can’t pin down. That therefore makes it feel scary, as opposed to getting to this reveal and it’s like “Oh and now CG takes over.”

There are a lot of mixed techniques, there’s prosthetics and animatronics and puppetry and costume and there’s visual effects compositing and a very small amount of CG. Most times you see the creatures there’s a mixture of all those things happening in subtle ways. As a fan of monster movies I think there’s a very fine line between not seeing enough and seeing too much, and it really is a razor wire. I get frustrated if I see a movie and it literally doesn’t show me enough, and it ends and you feel a bit cheated, and you maybe think “Ok it was a low budget and they just couldn’t show it.” Or the opposite, you see too much and it’s a low budget and they shouldn’t have shown it! Or you also get these bigger scale projects where you see too much because they can and you don’t gain anything.

I think there’s an art in trying to pick and choose specific reveals, and at the same time I wanted to it to feel satisfying and come full circle and realising that by the end you’d just watched a fairy tale. I hope I showed them off enough but I hope I didn’t show them off too much!

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How have you found the reaction to the film so far?

I couldn’t be happier! I think when you make a film you really want the audience that you want to like it, to like it! I’m the same audience and I wanted to make a creature feature, a horror movie that was honest in its own ambitions and I wanted it to be scary enough. So it’s really heartening to know that people are finding it scary and a bit of a thrill ride and appreciating the acting. Sundance was a dream come true, to be able to launch it there and then have some other festivals, FrightFest was like seeing it with a proper horror audience and there was a real good buzz in the room, people standing at the back and it was sold out.

Do you think you’ll stay in horror? You’ve got The Crow up next, which still is very Gothic…

I’m not going to leave horror (laughs). I’m not going away from it, I mean The Crow’s got plenty of horror in it and no, it’s a big part of me and it’s probably one of the first genres when I was young that just blew my mind and got me really excited and scared and thrilled and I think that I want to keep coming up with new ideas within horror and creating new monsters and new fresh takes on horror as much as possible. As well as other genres, and sci-fi, and crime! But I am generally drawn to the dark side of things.

Are there any updates on The Crow? Obviously the situation’s tricky…

Well, it’s been super exciting having been working on it flat out since last November, December and we’ve come a long way, and we’re just currently waiting for the Relativity situation to settle again, but there’s a lot of people behind the movie. So watch this space and look forward to seeing The Crow as and when it comes. I’m going to give it my all.

The Hallow is released on 13 November in UK cinemas. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.