Let me clarify this from the get-go: I’m not one of those reviewers who seeks to kick the stuffing out of ‘found footage’ films. All you need to do is peruse the reviews I’ve done here at Amazon or elsewhere to know that I’m entirely accepting of this sub-genre. I’d go so far to say that I enjoy them quite a bit so long as there is some quality story, development, and characters at the heart of whatever footage the producers allege to have found. Granted, I do believe these flicks work best as horror upstarts, but that doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate a few dramatic turns here and there, and, to its credit, HOLLOW thinks it knows what it’s doing in presenting four young folks – two couples, basically – enjoying a weekend outing in some romantic and spooky setting. Unfortunately, HOLLOW should’ve known better.
(NOTE: The following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of characters and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
There’s a tree on a hill in the middle of a small remote village that – rumor had it – has been haunted by a local legend … for, in the hollow of this massive, somewhat disfiguring tree, there lives a dark spirit that seeks out young lovers in the midst of some relationship strife and convinces them to commit suicide.
Now, if you stop right there, I’d argue you have the makings of a possibly mystical thriller. You have all the right elements – an evil place, an evil spirit, and an evil cause – that coulda, woulda, shoulda made for a nice picture.
Unfortunately, then they made the film.
Emma , a/k/a ‘the innocent one’ (played by the lovely Emily Plumtree), and Scott, a/k/a ‘the alpha male’ (Matt Stokoe), long for a weekend away from it all; and, hoping to share it with a few friends, they invite James, a/k/a ‘the jilted ex with a troubled past’(Sam Stockman), and Lynne, a/k/a ‘the slutty one’ (Jessica Ellerby), to join them. Emma’s grandfather – the pastor for a small, country village – recently passed away, and they’re heading there to make use of the premises, despite the fact that it has no electricity. Once there, they find themselves all equally creeped out by the legendary tree of local lore, and, before their weekend getaway is over, they may find out just how real and deadly folklore can be.
Some ‘found footage films’ clearly give ‘found footage films’ a bad name, and HOLLOW is part of that growing group of flicks made clearly to capitalize on a sub-genre but not provided enough spine upon which to build a perfect body. In fact, all there is to HOLLOW is its twist ending – not all that big of a twist, and certainly one you can see coming from ten miles away. These characters aren’t given any legitimate depth – though I’ve read some reviewers who think the introduction of relationships and faithlessness accounts to ‘character development’ (here’s a tip: it doesn’t) – and, instead, they’re all archetypes plopped into a ‘locked box scenario’ with very little hope of escaping.
In that respect, much of HOLLOW works just fine. There’s a benign charm to some elements of the film – the introduction of the local church mythology surrounding the suicide tree, the fact that there exists more than ample evidence to support some paranormal phenomenon in the vicinity, etc. – that work well enough to establish the premise; however, when writer/director Matthew Holt essentially delivers an ending an audience knew from their very first frame, why bother at all? Why not, instead, give viewers a legitimate reason to hang around for 90 minutes by creating characters that mean something more than just fitting the stereotype? These are four relatively self-centered and stupid individuals who one could argue get just what they deserved for being so mind-numbingly self-centered and stupid. Don’t be shocked when they get their comeuppance.
Sadly, a sense of ‘nothing new here’ pervades so much of HOLLOW.
HOLLOW is produced by (how fitting?) Hollow Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled through New Video. As for the technical specifications … well … the video looks and sounds about as good as the next ‘found footage’ flick, though I’m alarmed by the increasing use of a camera at night when the characters are running while essentially filming the ground. Sound is good, but the herky-jerky camera work really could’ve been improved. Also, there’s an awful lot of turning-the-camera-off (to save battery near the end), but, boy, it’s sure good that they turned the camera on just as something was about to happen! (Don’t give me that gobbledy-gook about them “needing the light,”either. I didn’t just fall off a truck.) As for the special features, there’s only a two-minute “story behind the scene” wherein the director gives you his two cents about how and why they shot the ending the way they did; it’s interesting, but it ain’t all that special, nor much of a feature.
RECOMMENDED only if found footage films are REALLY your thing because, otherwise, I’d be hard-pressed to see what value one might find in HOLLOW. It isn’t that it’s poorly made because, in most instances, the production quality is there. While I wouldn’t agree with some stylistic choices made, I strongly disagree with those who think there’s a winning 90-minute story here because there isn’t. At best, it’s a half-hour Twilight Zone episode stretched out into 90 unnecessary minutes. Once you experience the “engrossing and effective” ending (their advertising words, certainly not mine), perhaps you’ll agree.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video provided me with a DVD screener copy of HOLLOW for the expressed purposes of completing this review.