Director: Michael Axelgaard
Starring: Emily Plumtree, Jessica Ellerby, Sam Stockman, Matt Stokoe
A world premiere at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival, British import “Hollow” cashes in on the found footage revival kicked off at least in part by 2009’s “Paranormal Activity,” telling the story of a quartet of friends who suffer a dark turn of events in a remote village in Suffolk, England that’s been haunted for centuries by a local legend. Solid, largely naturalistic performances and a nice technical package help offset a story whose bump-in-the-night eerieness reaches a certain level of diminishing return long before the end of its 95-minute running time, rendering “Hollow” a marginal recommendation for hardcore genre enthusiasts.
On holiday, Emma (Emily Plumtree) and James (Sam Stockman), freshly engaged, pile into their car with Scott (Matt Stokoe), Emma’s best friend since childhood. They pick up Lynne (Jessica Ellerby), Scott’s new-ish girlfriend, and head off to a countryside cabin near Emma’s adolescent home. Nearby, there’s a giant, twisted, old tree with an ominous hollow, which is said to be the resting place of a great evil. Emma recounts stories of warning from her family members, but a night of debauched partying leaves them out near the tree. They get spooked, some weird things happen, and when they try to leave the next night, things go even further sideways.
“Hollow” isn’t a gory or effects-driven movie; it’s horror only in the broadest sense, rooted to the psychological underpinnings of the characters and maybe a pervasive human fear of the dark. (You’re cheating yourself if you watch with the lights on.) Matthew Holt’s script opts to focus more on the characters’ relationships more than the legend of the place, which supposedly wills young couples to suicide. For point of comparison, “Hollow” is more “The Blair Witch Project” than “Paranormal Activity.” And that’s fine. One wishes the movie had actually rooted down into personal matters even a little more, actually, because the fissures of Emma’s relationship with James, who suffers a wandering eye, seem to get a very surface-type treatment, and even more could have been done to dig down into the marrow of Scott’s romantic despair over seeing his unrequited crush slip away.
Director Michael Axelgaard does a generally good job of framing the action in a way that doesn’t elicit much irritation about the camera’s necessary, passed-around omnipresence. And he certainly extracts easygoing performances from his cast; Ellerby and Stokoe are the best, but no one embarrasses themselves, even if Plumtree’s character gets painted into something of a corner. Josh MacDonald and Evan Kelly’s similarly low-budget “The Corridor,” though, handled unraveling mental states much better. “Hollow” is content to unfold as an exercise in style when its conceit actually begs for even more exploration of its characters.
Then there’s the problematic finale, too, which doesn’t really extend the scares or spookiness quite as much as one would like. The last reel, marked by yelling and narrative water-treading, represents a fumbled opportunity. Part of this is owing to the found-footage conceit itself, and the camera’s separation from a certain character. But a more innovative and active treatment of the story, or even an authoritative bookend, would have benefited this material, and made “Hollow” feel a bit less hollow.
NOTE: Tribeca Film’s “Hollow” is available nationwide on VOD on Wednesday, September 19.
Written by: Brent Simon