Hollow, the debut feature from director Michael Axelgaard and Matthew Holt, received its world premiere at Canada's Fantasia International Film Festival and has since screened at Raindance with a BIFA nomination to boot. It may be the latest in a long line of found footage horrors but its smart mix of quintessentially British folklore and solid performances from the relatively unknown cast means you should cast any preconceptions aside. Choosing to build up tension and create a 70s-style Wicker Man-esque 'odd' atmosphere rather than relying on jump scares, it tops it all off with a strong ending and, while not flawless, is a impressive debut effort.
The story revolves around two young couples on a weekend away in East Anglia so that Emma (Emily Plumtree) can clear out her late grandfather's old cottage. Early scenes focus on the foursome's easy rapport, helped by naturalistic performances that are so crucial in found footage horrors, before they discover a local legend about a tree where couples have committed suicide over the years. To the film's advantage though, the tree is arguably little more than a MacGuffin; the real drama comes from the fracturing of the foursome's relationships, culiminating in a nailbiting climax set completely within the confines of a car.
That final sequence is all the more effective due to the under-use of the camera; eschewing the usual notions of handheld frantic framing that blights other films of its type, it barely moves and with just the camera's light for company, you're forever squinting to discover what lurks within the frame - much like the Paranormal Activity's use to their advantage. Unfortunately the same can't be said of the entire film with a night-time drug-fuelled sequence a particular offender. The lack of light becomes a hindrance as you struggle to even work out what's going on, not helped by it being the one sequence where the performances stray into over-acting as well.
Thankfully it's an isolated case though as Hollow largely succeeds as a decidedly retro ghost story shot in a modern way. That the ghosts prove to be less important than the characters proves vital but only succeeds thanks to the four performances adding a believability and empathy to the overall piece. You'll want these characters to survive, even though long-time fans of horror will be probably be able to guess how it'll all unfold. The fun comes from the journey as Hollow manages to breathe new life into an increasingly tired sub-genre.