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Film Review: The Hollow (2015)

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SYNOPSIS:

Three sisters lose their parents in a fiery car crash and head to Shelter Island to live with their Aunt. Unfortunately they arrive just in time to experience the reawakening of a century-old curse that will threaten the lives of everyone on the island.

REVIEW:

The Hollow takes place in the Pacific Northwest on Shelter Island which can only be reached by ferry. It’s Halloween and there’s a storm coming and you know what that means? Well, not really, but we’ll soon find out. We meet Aunt Cora (Deborah Kara Unger) while she stocks up on groceries preparing for the arrival of her three nieces. The store owner warns her that there’s a storm coming and well, you know, it’s Halloween and are you sure it’s a good idea for them to come now? Her response is that her nieces don’t really have a choice and that not everyone has as much time for superstitions as he does.

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As Cora drives off, her large, black, menacing dog is in the back seat growling and barking towards the thick forest bordering the highway. The dog becomes more and more agitated and is lunging against the widow. Cora finally screeches to a halt just as the dog breaks through the side window (really?!) and runs into the forest. As Cora tries to retrieve her dog, it’s her bad fortune to meet up with the reason everyone’s so freaked out about a storm on Halloween. So much for dear Aunt Cora.

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Next we switch to her three nieces – Sarah (Stephanie Hunt), Marley (Sarah Dugdale), and Emma (Alisha Newton) – as they drive towards Shelter Island. We soon learn that the three girls’ parents died in a car crash – a crash survived by the youngest sister Emma. Since Emma literally saw her parents burned to death, she is understandably disturbed and distraught. The sisters’ roles are very quickly established in one short scene in the car. Sarah, the oldest one, seems to be trying to replace both of her parents. On one hand she is authoritarian and tries to take charge, while on the other hand, she tries to shield her sisters from bad news, put a positive spin on everything, and keep the others’ spirits up. She’s hard on Marley and babies poor, damaged Emma. Marley is the rebellious middle sister that thinks they could’ve made things work at home and fights Sarah at every turn.

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As they try to board the ferry to the island, they are warned that a storm is coming and, well, you know, it’s Halloween, so it might not be a good idea to go to the island just now. Then they’re warned by Seth (Richard Harmon), the only other customer for the ferry, that the last time there was a storm on Halloween, everyone on the island died. But of course, they forge ahead because heeding the warnings of strangers is never practiced by characters in horror movies. As they drive through town, they see that the streets are deserted but still don’t connect that observation with the prior warnings they received.

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When they make it to Aunt Cora’s, Sarah, Marley, and Emma soon meet the thing that likes to kill people during a storm on Halloween. As they fight to survive the creature’s attacks, we see every cliché in the horror movie book of tricks.

To start with, jump scares abound. In fact, you could just assume that every time there is a close-up of someone in a tense situation, something or someone will suddenly appear in frame as if from nowhere. Sometimes we even get double-jumped! As a character reacts to the first surprise, they’re hit with a second one from another direction. Occurring on the average of one every 3-4 minutes, they get old fast and lose any effect they might have had.

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Tired attempts to build tension fall short when the sisters become lost; a car runs out of gas; someone sprains their ankle while running from danger; the out of gas car disappears; a second vehicle is difficult to start and once started, is difficult to get out of the ditch in which it’s stuck; a bloodied woman suddenly appears and croaks out, “It’s here!”; each sister unexpectedly disappears more than once; the sisters frequently split up (a big horror movie no-no!); a message appears written on a blood-drenched window; etc., etc, etc. The string of clichés continues ad infinitum until the end when we hear Emma yell, “Time to die you bastard!”

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Several other things bothered me about The Hollow. For one, the sisters are repeatedly told to be quiet or “it” will hear and find them. Not once do they make any attempt to be quiet or even reduce their volume. And everyone around them pays the price. Second, during the last half-hour of the movie, we are treated to nearly constant heavy breathing, sobbing, whimpering, and other audible gasps of exertion as our trio of sisters attempt to achieve freedom, all while trying to be quiet of course, so as not to attract “it.” My final example of an odd choice is the reason for the creature’s existence. Without giving too much away, it would’ve been far more appropriate and believable if the story was set in New England.

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That said, I loved the setting! A dense evergreen forest on a fog enshrouded island during a thunderstorm. Add a few scenes that take place in a claustrophobic underground tunnel and there are many possibilities and opportunities to build tension and terror. But they remain only possibilities and opportunities. While at times beautifully shot, the settings are underutilized. Far too much effort was put into jump scares and not nearly enough effort into building atmospheric fright. In the end, I think the constant jump scares short circuited any possible buildup of tension.

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The Hollow is a SyFy network original that first aired on October 24, 2015. Directed by Sheldon Wilson and co-written by Rick Suvalle and Sheldon Wilson, it’s pretty typical SyFy channel horror fare. The creature is all CGI, which is fine. The problem is that the creature design isn’t particularly scary. The guiding vision of the filmmakers seems to be to create as many jump scares as possible. If so, they succeeded. There are indeed an overabundance of jump scares as well as a plethora of horror clichés, but sadly, no horror, no character development, and no one to really care about. I give it 1 / 5 CGI briar patches. But that’s just me.

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