Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Opening with an unseen (but heavily breathing) cameraman circling a gigantic tree before peeking through a large crack in its trunk to the shadowy hollow within, Michael Axelgaard's feature debut announces itself from the very outset not just as a probing journey into the dark, but as yet another addition to the growing body of 'found footage' horror films.

Sure enough, we flash back to a party of mismatched friends and lovers – prim Emma, her priapic fiancé Scott, her camera-obsessed best friend (and ex) James and James' current squeeze Lynn - gathering for a weekend trip to the wilds. Okay, so maybe it is just the wilds of Dunwich on the Suffolk coastline, in the creaky old house of Emma's recently deceased grandfather (a local priest) – but an old tree near the property comes with a terrifying myth of demons and hangings attached, while Dunwich itself is inextricably associated with diabolism thanks to a short story by H P Lovecraft (The Dunwich Horror, 1929) that unfolds in an eponymous, albeit entirely fictional town in Massachusetts.

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So the stage seems set for supernatural shakicam shenanigans of a now familiar pattern, whereby a group's internal dysfunctions will find monstrous expression not just through their own compulsive documentation of events but through the catalysing presence of something 'out there' – be it the woodland 'witch' of The Blair Witch Project, the domestic devil of Paranormal Activity, the zombies of [REC] and Diary Of The Dead, the extra-terrestrials of [film=12987]Cloverfield[/film] and Apollo 18, or something else entirely.

Of course, Emma dutifully repeats her mother's story of a childhood encounter with a terrifying hooded figure under the tree. Naturally a book entitled British Exorcisms Of The Twentieth Century (including a photo of the tree) is discovered in a drawer. Unsurprisingly newspaper clippings of recent local suicides are also found. Inevitably the vicar of the nearby church appears to know more than he is willing to say (at least on camera). All the signposts are in place for some predictable first-person frights, in generic terrain now so well mapped out that genuine disorientation no longer seems possible.

Yet Matthew Holt's screenplay takes a different route with these materials. By shifting the focus away from ghosts and gremlins to the group's own increasingly frayed dynamics, and allowing their own troubled histories and closeted skeletons to resurface, he locates new haunts and hollows in the human psyche, and leaves the supernatural entirely to the imagination. It is a bold move - but it would have seemed much bolder if the recent Atrocious and A Night In The Woods had not played very similar games with our expectations of the found footage film.

As it stands, Hollow unfolds more like a brutal psychodrama than a horror, but is perhaps none the worse for that. If there are a few too many (in every sense) unfocused scenes of frenzied running about in the dark - an unwelcome given in this subgenre - at least these are offset by a more judiciously prolonged scene of tension in an immobilised car, as three of the characters find themselves trapped by their own fear as much as by any real threat outside.

Indeed, this scene encapsulates the inner workings of a film where a local legend inspires terror - and more besides – and Axelgaard, instead of showing us the true face of the devil, prefers to leave us hanging. That said, Hollow suffers from being in an overcrowded market of low-budget shakicam features, and does not offer quite enough in the way of new ideas, so that, unlike the ancient tree at its centre, the film never really manages to stand out or overshadow its competition.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2011
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A group of friends visiting an old house are increasingly disturbed by the tales associated with the sinister tree outside.
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Director: Michael Axelgaard

Writer: Matthew Holt

Starring: Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Matt Stokoe, Jessica Ellerby

Year: 2011

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Raindance 2011

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