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As found footage settles itself in as the new raison d’être
of indie genre filmmakers, we start to see it mold and blend with time-honored
tradition (the anthology, the ghost story, etc). In HOLLOW (available now on VOD from Tribeca Film), director Michael
Axelgaard brings the aesthetic to the historic English countryside where it
gains rich, somber atmosphere in the process.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a horror fan unacquainted with
two couples in a jeep. The weekend getaway will never die, but Axelgaard and
writer Matthew Holt manage to make the familiar work (and not just because of
the accents) by successfully setting a tone, even before the more explicitly
horror narrative comes into play. Firstly, Emma (Emily Plumtree) has organized
the weekend alongside fiancé Scott (Matt Stokoe), best friend James (Sam
Stockman) and his new flame Lynne (Jessica Ellerby) around clearing out her
late grandfather’s home in Suffolk. Coupled with the perpetual overcast of
rural England, the gloom of death already hangs in the air. Secondly, the four
are post-grads and as James’ previous relationship with Emma is revealed, as is
his refusal to let go, a melancholy sense of moving on from the days of weekend
getaways and tolerating awkward social circle drama is palpable.
James, damaged and timid, is the cameraman for much of
HOLLOW, which does a fairly brilliant job at the now obligatory “why are we
still shooting.” The film uses his own warped outlook, as well as the fact that
the camera’s light only works when recording to justify, and coupled with the
strong character work on display, it’s more than enough. In fact, much of HOLLOW’s strengths come from
its lead foursome. Of course, there’s a heaping of help from the all-natural production
value of Suffolk and the surrounding legends of a thousand year-old tree and
the suicidal lovers it continues to attract, but when the film attempts overt
scares, it stumbles, achieving the standard in shaky running. The true
unsettling nature lies in watching Emma, James, Scott and Lynne intersect and
interact, coming face-to-face with their expectations for themselves and each
other, and the fallouts from where they differ.
Axelgaard wisely stays away from relying on frequent jolts.
Knowing the effect of sudden shriek drifts quickly, the director instead finds
the tragic nature of both the possible supernatural threat and the group’s
relations. This is ultimately what keeps HOLLOW both an eerie experience and a
lingering presence after the fact.
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