Interview with THE HALLOW director Corin Hardy

We talk to Jeff Tweedy lookalike Corin Hardy about getting the frights right in The Hallow, a new horror film shot largely in the wilds of Ireland.

Having debuted at Sundance with a midnight screening, Corin Hardy’s ‘The Hallow’ has been getting all the right kinds of cheers and screams as it makes its way across the festival circuit and now, finally, to a cinema near you.

Telling the tale of new parents Adam (Joseph Mawle) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic) after they decide to live in the wilds of Ireland, the boggle-eyed warnings of the local folk to leave the wild woods alone go unheeded, and all kinds of Celtic crazy breaks loose.

We caught up with Hardy just as he returned to his native England, having put the final touches to pre-production plans for his upcoming remake of The Crow, the 1994 adaptation of James O’Barr’s graphic novel having spawned four sequels.
For now though, Hardy is hopeful that his big-screen debut – after a glittering career in commercials and pop videos – will scare up some serious box-office…

It’s your first big feature film outing, which you’ve also co-written with Felipe/Olga – was the shoot a dream come true, or a nightmare on Paddy Street?
Corin Hardy: Em, it certainly wasn’t a nightmare, but it was a big challenge, trying to be ambitious, to make a film of this kind on an independent film budget. But it was a dream come true to finally get to make a movie, for sure.

How come Felipe Marino was called Olga Barreneche here – tax? Wanted? Sex change?
CH: That’s right. He had written a number of scripts under the name Olga Barreneche, and then came out as Felipe Marino, which is his real name.

With a UK, USA and Irish involvement, and 15 producers on board, you had some globetrotting and schmoozing to do here when it came to the finances. A necessary pain in the ass?
CH: The financing side of it wasn’t something I knew much about at the start, so, luckily, the original producers who took an interest in the film, Joe Neurater and Felipe, from Occupant Films, did. Based in America – even though one is Indian and the other one is Mexican – they optioned the film, and then developed it with me. They had produced stuff like The Wackness, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane and other good stuff like that – so, their experience went a long way here.
It was a case of getting E1 on board then, and a bunch of financiers, including Prescient, and then, thankfully, the Irish Film Board. They completed the puzzle.

How much did the IFB bring to the table – €30m, €40m…?
CH: Oh, closer to €50m. At least.

There are nine production compaanies involved, from Occupant Entertainment to, hey, Hallow Films – left to your own devices, or were you sometimes directing by committee?
CH: Absolutely. This is the film that I wanted to make, and everyone was very supportive in helping me make The Hallow the way I wanted to make it. So, there was no directing by committee. Thankfully.

Horror is somewhat like heavy metal, reggae or Republicanism – everyone knows what they’re going to get, and they want the cliches, badly, yet your job is to surprise them. Tough gig?
CH: It is a tough gig. It’s a fun gig, knowing that there’s an audience, but it’s a trick to get the balance of old and new right. I always go with my gut instinct, because I’m a fan of these kinds of movies. I love horror movies, and anything that messes with a genre basically. It’s that 1970s American wave that you want to aim for, where they’re very true to the genre, but they’re also having a huge amount of fun with it too. I wanted to nod towards these kinds of films, and aspire to finding new ground whilst having some fun with the horror genre too.
So, yeah, it was all down to gut instinct.

After playing at Sundance, doing the Sunday midnight slot, and the initial response online – especially – were very positive, and ‘The Hallow’ currently stands at a healthy 78% on When did you know all was well…?
CH: You can get lost in the filmmaking, and you’re always trying to keep a grip on the finished film, and it’s always a tribute to a team rather than just one person when a film works. The team I had here – especially the editor, Nick Emerson, and the effects team – they just went above and beyond here. By the time it got to Sundance, it was a case of fingers crossed. I couldn’t tell anymore what sort of film I’d made, and I just hoped that it might move people, scare people, excite people. And thankfully, it did.
You want to make a film that people can get lost in for an hour and a half. You want to entertain. And it was really, really reassuring to get generally a great response.

When it comes to horror, the reviews hardly matter. It’s all about the horror fans, and they’ll pretty much give any interesting concept a chance. Have you had much feedback from that particular dark corner of cinema’s audience?
The horror fans are the original ComicCon army – they love their genre, and care deeply about who lives up to their standards. Get any feedback from them?
Again, a great response. When you’re doing a festival where everyone is horror savvy, and they’re giving you screams and rounds of applause, that’s a great feeling…

You dedicate the film to Ray Harryhausen, Dick Smith and Stan Winston – you’re a fan of the old school special effects then, right? A thing of the past, or always magical, always necessary, to have man-made special effects in movies?
CH: It’s not as relied on, of course, given how good CGI can be, but for me, the best illusions are created by mixing techniques. Too much of one or the other breaks the magic, and you disconnect. When the line is blurred between reality and CG, it can just take you to another place. We’ve seen that again and again, and so, Ray, Dick and Stan live on! It’s about embracing your limitations, and being forced to become more inventive…

Far scarier than being lost in the wilds of Ireland is taking on remakes of classic films – how are you feeling about your upcoming reboot of ‘The Crow’ franchise? Full of joy, or are you running to the toilet every time you think about it?
CH: [Laughs] I am full of joy, but, like everyone else, I do need to use the toilet every now and then. I’m well aware of what this film means to many people – myself included – and because I also love the original graphic novel by James O’Barr, there’s a source I can go back to when it comes to starting all over again. It’s a dream to do it, and I’m looking forward to the challenge…

When you look at the work of Carpenter, Raimi and Polanski, the horror genre is a great vehicle for dealing with society’s ills. Is that double-meaning important to you and your work?
CH: I think it’s very important to tap into primal fears, for sure. Human issues and fears, they’re fascinating. I didn’t want to make a movie with a straight in-your-face message, but there is some kind of subtext to the film, in terms of nature’s revenge on us, and to create real tension and fears, you’ve got to believe in the characters in the movie, and what they’re going through. So, there’s so much to work with in horror…

Are you keen to be known as a horror director, or is there a lesbian high-school musical dramedy lurking in your loins?
CH: It’s certainly an arena that I’m very comfortable in, although I’ve got sci-fi thrillers, dramas, etc, lurking in there. I like the dark side, basically…

You’re working out personal issues in your films, aren’t you, Corin…?
CH: Well, maybe… [laughs]. Yeah. I’ve got plenty more horror films that I’d like to make.

Words: Paul Byrne

‘The Hallow’ is released in Irish cinemas on November 13th 2015