The Hallow follows the story of a family who moves into a remote house in the Irish countryside, only to be terrified by the supernatural inhabitants of the local forest. Rían Smith met with director Corin Hardy to discuss the film.
What’s your favourite Olly Murs song?
I will have to go with Busy, as it’s the first the music video for him I did and I brought a doll to life. So that was fun.
What made you want to make horror films? And, specifically, The Hallow?
I was a big genre fan as a child, wanting to make monsters and do make-up effects. I then got involved in making my own horror shorts and loving particularly that era in the 70s and 80s. So when I got to write and direct my own [horror film], I was looking to try and do as much with new monsters as possible. I looked at fairy mythology and that lead me particularly to Irish folklore. I thought it would be interesting to do what we normally get in a fairytale and fantasy world, but to bring it into the real world. So to try and tell a fairytale but grounded in reality. To translate the ideas from folklore into some sort of tangible, visceral, thrilling terrifying moving experience.
We’re you a Fangoria (famous horror magazine) kid?
I was obsessed with Fangoria from the age of eleven. A guy at school loved horror and I loved heavy metal. I got him into Iron Maiden, he got me into horror movies. Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. When we got Fangoria we’d have to travel up to London from East Sussex where we lived, and it would be like a bit of religious experience. You’d just sit and collect these magazines and love looking at the techniques and the make-up and the monsters and the gore. We sat in on evenings sketching images of Freddie Kruger in our sketchbooks. Eventually that led to getting together and collaborating, making 8mm horror movies at the weekend, and on summer holidays.
Do you still have any of those 8 mm films?
Yeah, I do, and we’re hoping to put one on The Hallow release when it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Is it hard to write horror? You can’t really put an effective jump scare down on paper.
I think, yes it is. I can only speak from my own experience, obviously, but it was difficult and it took a lot longer, particularly this kind of horror movie. It involved balancing that fine line between ideas in folklore and mythology, trying to convince them to work inside a story grounded in reality. It took time, because, if you went too fantastical, it sort of popped you out of it. Most horror movies involve certain beliefs, mythologies, ghost stories, and actually they’re far more difficult to convincingly write and conceive and complete than an average drama. To try and balance those ingredients.
How long did it take from say, finishing the first draft and the finished product rolling out into cinemas?
I have sketchbook drawings of my creatures which are called The Hallow, which back then I was looking at the Shee and Unseelie Court, which are dated at 2007.
But then conceiving the treatment and then writing the first draft and then second draft (and then however many drafts it took) to financing and completing the movie in January. It was completed in 2015 and came into my head in 2007.
The cast are all fantastic. Was the film a go before the cast joined, or was their attachment a factor in getting it made?
It’s such a puzzle, putting the pieces together. I always knew I wanted Joseph Mawle to play Adam, I wanted to try find someone who could bring a very special kind of performance, an authenticity that would resonate in a horror movie like this. So he was on board, it got financed and then I had to complete the cast. I found Bojana to play Claire, and then Michael McElhatton and Michael Smiley quite close to production.
The film juggles several horror sub-genres. You’ve got body horror, creature feature, and changeling horror. And it works. Was this something you were aware of? Were you ever worried that it may all become too much?
My biggest concern was that I didn’t want to make something that would be boring. I As you’re telling a narrative, I didn’t want to repeat once the story kicked off. I wanted it to evolve. People have mentioned the different subgenres and that wasn’t really the intent, more to keep the story evolving so you weren’t sure where it was going, so it kept you on your toes. That all originated from the core idea of telling a fairytale and bringing the ideas and looking at different ways of translating them.
In terms of creature design, how did you decide what they should look like?
To begin with I sketch a lot of concepts (and doodles). It was very much a case of when you pitch a project to people and you say ‘ I wanna do a fairytale and bring it into reality’ and they say ‘well, what are the creatures like?’, it helps a lot to have the ideas down, to be able to show in the ballpark of what I was looking at. But then I worked very closely with John Nolan, an animatronics and special effects designer in London, to bring them from 2D sketches through concept artwork with Ivan Manzella whose done things like Prometheus, and John Nolan’s team to bring them into a prosthetic and animatronic reality.
Practical is just so much better…
I’m glad you say that. To me it’s never been a case of all practical or all CG. It is very much a mix. I certainly wanted to ground it. It was like a mission to go, ‘Right, we’re going to try do everything as real as possible.’ Locations, authentic performances, night shoots. It also meant we’d try do as much practical effects. It’s something you can connect to when it’s really there. We’d use visual effects and CG to blend the illusion, but I think if you can do as much for real… It’s all based on the design of what the effect is, and how it fits into your scene. You can’t do everything practically but you can do a hell of a lot.
The film was shot in Ireland. What was the worst thing about the shoot?
It was a big challenge, just overall. Every day was a challenge because we were putting so much into it. We were trying to aim high as much as possible, trying to make the most beautiful film we could. I was pushing everyone involved and everyone got on board. There were things that went wrong every day that you had to get around. I knew the weather wasn’t going to be great, and I kinda wanted it not to be that great, as I wanted the moodiness to be there. But it’s just coping. Coping with long nights, exhausting schedule, rain, animatronic babies, real babies. It was difficult, but I don’t think it was the case of anything being ‘the worst.’
There are miles and miles of terrible horror films that the filmmakers must have thought were going to be classics, so at any stage did you think that the film would be a horrific mess?
You go through definite fears and doubts when you’re conceiving and shooting stuff. Maybe it’s difficult sometimes to execute what you have in your mind. But I also believe that you can’t go in thinking something is terrible. You have to push through. When I was right up close to the end of finishing it, I was worried I hadn’t made a scary movie. I’d seen the edits a zillion times, all the effects, and you suddenly wonder whether you’re going to show it to an audience and they’re going to be like ‘Oh, that wasn’t scary.’ Luckily, that hasn’t been the case and people have found it suitably freaky and terrifying.
It showed at Frightfest…
Getting into Frightfest in London, and Sundance in Utah, and being able to take it around the world and various European cities has made it all worth while. You’ve finished it, and now you can screen it and watch it with an audience and see people reacting to it. It’s been a bit of a dream come true.
The film garnered a famous fan at Sundance…
Yes, Slash, from Guns and Roses, has become a big supporter of The Hallow, which is quite hard to compute as a massive guns and roses fan. He’s a huge horror fan and he loves the same sort of stuff that I do. 70s and 80s horror. True horror. Creatures and gore. He’s got his own production company called Slasher films as well.
What’s next for Corin Hardy?
Well next I’m very excited to be making a new take of The Crow. We’re just getting restarted on it. I’ve been working on it since last November, with [production company] Relativity. So we’re just waiting on a new recommencement date.
The Hallow is in cinemas now.
If you want to turn the tables on Rían and ask him some questions, head on over to his Twitter.