Nightmare on Elm Tree, by Matt Warren
It is generally understood that there are four (4) basic kinds of drama: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Giant-Ass Haunted Tree. Future academics may argue that director Michael Axelgaard’s new found-footage horror flick Hollow is a little bit of all four, but for now let’s just agree: this is basically a movie about spooky lumber. Proposed tagline: Hollow—Its Bark is Worse Than Its Bite!!!
Set in the soggy English countryside, Hollow follows University student Emma (Emily Plumtree) on holiday to visit the estate of a late uncle, a mysterious figure who previously served as vicar to a rural area somewhere outside Suffolk. Though ostensibly a vacation, Emma’s actual reason for the visit is to unravel the mystery of one particular tree looming on the outskirt of her uncle’s property. Large and ominous, this tree has been creeping the fuck out of Emma since childhood, and with good reason. For decades, the tree has been a marquee destination for melodramatic young lovers looking to commit suicide, habitually hanging themselves from its many gothic, knotted branches. Despite prevailing opinions that the trend is nothing more than macabre teenage theatrics, Emma suspects that some kind of malevolent supernatural force is at work, and sets out to investigate. Proposed tagline: Hollow—The Sap That Saps…Your Will to Live!!!
Sidebar: Is there any more British-sounding scenario than an actress named Emily Plumtree playing a character named “Emma”? The role might as well be played by a slice of Shepard’s Pie riding on the 2nd story of a double-decker bus, or by a pint of lukewarm beer making a sardonic wisecrack about Parliament while smoking an unfiltered cigarette indoors. Or maybe by the Queen.
Anyways. Emily is joined on this exploratory mission by three mates: alpha-male fiancé Scott (Matt Stokoe), blond sexpot Lynne (Jessica Ellerby), and sadsack ex-boyfriend James (Sam Stockman), all tagging along for the exact same reason all young people in dim horror movies head off to remote, poorly-maintained lodgings: to get stoned, peep each other’s dicks and tits, and be brutally executed one-by-one. Proposed tagline: Hollow—Branch Out Into Unimaginable Horror!!!
Hollow would be a pretty banal thriller no matter what, but the Found Footage format definitely doesn’t help. I think it’s safe to say that FF is an extremely tired genre, especially when filmmakers like Axelgaard do so little to subvert or play with the form. It’s been 13 years since The Blair Witch Project, yet painfully few directors have tried to push the genre beyond its well-established clichés. And Hollow is no different. Nausea-inducing shakycam? Check. Characters telling each other to “turn the camera off” and “keep rolling” and fecklessly wondering “why are you still filming this”? Check. Jump scares induced by nothing more than the fucking lens cap loudly banging against the onboard camera mic? Check!
Found Footage is at the point now in 2012 that teen Slasher movies were in the mid-‘90s. It’s become a joke, desperate for reinvention. The genre desperately needs its Scream, and quick (this year’s V/H/S comes close, but that film mostly just uses the FF format as a novelty.) We need a new kind of Found Footage movie that’s inventive, sincere, and terrifying. But Hollow is not this movie.
Proposed tagline: Hollow is.