Rental? At best?
Sometimes, during those brief moments of lucidity when my head clears a little and I can step back from the Netflix Instant queue, I ask myself why it is I continue to watch movies in subgenres that were played out before they even got popular. I never come up with a good answer to the question (and I'm never lucid long enough to go digging, really). Case in point: the found-footage film, an offpsring of the mockumentary that is, ultimately, an offshoot of the popularity of 1999's The Blair Witch Project. I've seen maybe a half-dozen found-footage films I would consider watching a second time; I've seen maybe one hundred found footage films overall. Hollow is not only not one of the half-dozen, it's a movie I would consider using as an instrument of torture were I a guard at the Salt Pit. Pointless, plotless, presumably scriptless nonsense that almost dares the viewer to keep watching to see how much worse things are going to get. Guess what? The answer is "a lot".
Plot: Two couples are on vacation on the English moors. Okay, maybe not moors. But that sound spookier. It's actually quite dry for England. And maybe not vacation, either; they've come to sort out a dead relative's estate. Dead relative is a priest, and estate is... an old abbey? I think it was an old abbey. While they're on their way there, they pass a big old gnarled tree, and Emma (Emily Plumtree in her first feature appearance) relates the story of how the tree is possessed blah blah. Emma, her beau James (The Task's Sam Stockman), and their pals Lynne (Get Him to the Greek's Jessica Ellerby) and Scott (Devil's Pass' Matt Stokoe-no relation to the writer, at least I fervently hope not), arrive at the old pile and spend a few entirely uninteresting days trying to keep a clichéd script afloat (predictable sexual tension between non-couple pieces, growing obsession with the tree, things that go bump in the night) before, of course, they must all go confront the tree and find out if it's really possessed or if the scriptwriters were just ripping off The Blair Witch Project.
You get all the usual lowlights from a movie like this, people running around and screaming incoherently, usually off-camera, while something that you never quite get to see is chasing them. Now, I am a big, big fan of not revealing the monster; the one scene I didn't like in Cloverfield (and yes, I do realize I am the only person who really liked that movie, shut up about it) is the one Big Reveal scene at the end that's there solely to stop the masses complaining that you never get to see the monster. (Compare with the excellent scene in Val Lewton's Cat People in Central Park, where you get a few glimpses of shadow at best; it is a textbook in how to create suspense.) So when I'm complaining about it, you know you've got problems. Much of the problem has to do with the fact that, during the action scenes, we're not really seeing much of the characters, either; Axelgaard seems to have decided that the movie would be more suspenseful if you couldn't see the characters or the thing chasing them. Not a bad experiment, but he probably should have changed direction once he realized how incredibly stupid it ends up looking. You, too, would be better served by avoiding such. (zero)
Hollow starts off like every other found footage horror film you've come to know. The opening scene is of police investigators at a crime scene which is the place of the actually really creepy tree where you're told that four victims were found hanging from. Now that's not technically a spoiler because it's within the first minute of the film so don't freak out. After that the film jumps backwards to where the two couples get together and head on a road trip to one if their relatives house out in the country. You get to kinda somewhat get to know the four main characters so it does have some character development. And nothing really exciting really happens until the last 10 minutes which is where most FF films kick it into gear and these last ten minutes are what made this movie not suck. It actually gets really creepy and intense towards the end. Yes they make dumb decisions but hey if they didn't we wouldn't have a movie! So overall it's worth a watch on a boring night off of netflix or a dollar rental.
Four friends travel to Suffolk, England to see the house that Emma's grandfather lived in. At the center of this is a large, old tree that has a large hollow section, where evil supposedly resides; this tree scared Emma when she was a girl.
At 1:55 into the film, we learn that all the protagonists die, and that we are going to have to suffer through footage from the handheld camera found at the scene. At this point, I only watch this picture so as to complete this review. As a consumer, I would reject the movie and move on to another, better one.
The policeman from East Anglia does some of his own camera work in describing the tableau after all the principals have been hung by the neck until dead. He shows a lot of this huge old tree, including the opening of a huge hollow (film title). The tree is devoid of foliage at this point.
We skip back in time, and start at the beginning of the found footage.
Emma, James, and Scott travel by car to a train station, where they pickup Lynn.
While continuing to their destination, they kill a fox. They stop, and Emma sees the massive old tree and remembers her fear. Her mother had a particularly creepy story about it, which is told later. The tree is in leaf, and looks rather vigorous.
The cottage had been in Emma's family for generations. While going through papers they find news clippings in her grandfather's belongings dating from 1650 to three days before he died. The common thread is suicide of couples by hanging from the tree.
They talk to a local clergyman, who will not tell them anything. A local fisherman recounts two versions of the first suicide. Scott finds a book where an entire chapter is devoted to the tree and the suicides, notably 9 in a period of 18 months around 1983.
The four have other issues. James and Emma have known each other the longest, but were not right for each other. James cannot quite accept that. Lynn definitely draws Scott's attention. Lynn has a child, Kyle, by James, but James and Lynn are not married. What could go wrong there?
Doing recreational drugs seems like a mistake, in any case, but given all the suicide build up, this is a perfectly stupid move. After they work themselves up, they go out in public yelling and screaming. Brilliant. Then they go driving while under the influence. Doubly brilliant.
Emma decides to go back to the cottage herself after Scott gets the car stuck off road. She needs her inhaler, but probably cannot get to it. She heads to the tree for some reason. James catches up with her inhaler, and gets her pointed back to the others.
Scott challenges the tree in the dark. How dramatic. Scott and Lynn start making out in the blackness; James catches this. Emma defuses it, somewhat.
The next day was to be the last day in the area: turn in the keys and leave. Things are broken here among the couples. The local clergy insists that avoiding the tree is the right thing to do, so the history of hangings won't be resolved. Going home, forgetting this place, seems like the clear decision.
They don't do that. The last 20 minutes felt like 200; heavy breathing and screaming in blackness.
Cinematography: 0/10 Found footage. This is better than most; fairly long segments of the first half of the film are in color. The second half is a different story.
Sound: 4/10 As with many dreadful 'found film' projects, sound was recorded. The repetitive sound of the wind screen wipers, for instance, is of exactly zero interest to most viewers especially with the camera focused on uninteresting objects during travel in a car. Listening to James breathing as he walks around confused or scared did not heighten tension. Video footage of a fly on the inside of the car's wind screen was the topper: James' finger impacting the screen and the fly moving about in agitation. Wonderful use of the viewer's time. Some of the yelling overloaded the video camera's ability to record. The breathing in near darkness gets really annoying after a while.
Acting: 2/10 Get a bigger budget and hire better actors next time.
Screenplay: 0/10 At least 50 percent of the film is spent on couples fighting verbally. Perhaps 15 percent is recorded in blackness with barely useful sound. Another 10 percent is focused on auto ceilings, fidgety knees, or the ground. Who cares about any of these three categories? What does this have to do with horror? with thrillers? with mystery?