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AICN HORROR talks with HOLLOW director Michael Axelgaard and writer/producer Matthew Holt! Plus a review of the film!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time I had a chance to catch up with the talented gents behind HOLLOW, director Michael Axelgaard and writer/producer Matthew Holt. I reviewed HOLLOW last year, but since then the film, once known as DUNWICH, has gone through some nips and tucks and is going to be released in limited theaters this week as well as Video On Demand. Let’s see what the guys have to say about HOLLOW and then scroll down further for my updated review of the film…

AMBUSH BUG: Hi Michael and Matt, how are you doing today? I saw HOLLOW a couple of months ago and it’s finally going to be seeing the light of day now that’s it’s been touring the festival circuit.

MICHAEL AXELGAARD (MA): Didn’t you review the film last year?

BUG: Yeah, that was me.

MA: Well you’ve taken the full journey with us. That was the rough cut that we were showing at the festivals and it’s out of that that we got our distribution deal with Tribecca and Metronome in Europe. We got Chris Gill, the editor from 28 DAYS LATER, on board to do the final cut of the film and hopefully tightened it up and made it a lot punchier as well.

MATTHEW HOLT (MH): We added a lot of sound design and all.

BUG: What’s the biggest difference between that original cut that I saw and the one that you guys are releasing now?

MA: The mixing and the pacing of the film. We tightened up the first half and have cut quite a bit out and in the second half, especially towards the end, where the scary scenes happen, we really excruciatingly draw those scenes out and we added sound design to the film, where it was just a temporary mix when we were going around to the festivals, but we got some very talented sound designers on board and a horror film is almost all sound, so getting that sound design in and making it really spooky and visceral to grab you…hopefully that will help quite a bit.

BUG: As far as locations are concerned, it’s extremely important to this film. Tell me about how you came upon the tree in particular and also just this location. This is a real location, is that correct?

MH: Yeah. I think the origin of the whole film started a few years ago when I went away over the weekend to a place called Greenwich, which is on the east coast of England and it’s kind of part of England that has a lot of religious history from the middle ages particularly, and it used to be a really big religious center and a lot of it was next to the sea, so a lot of big churches and monasteries fell into the ocean. The whole area then kind of became abandoned, so when you go there now there’s a lot of abandoned religious ruins around there. I went away for a weekend with friends of mine and Grapevine Monastery, which is featured in the film, is there and we were staying in a local town hall actually converted into a lodging place and went down to the local pub…it was a bit like the scene in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON where they go into that remote pub in the middle of nowhere and all of the locals put down their glasses and kind of stare at you. Once we bought them a few drinks, thy started telling us ghost stories and we took the ghost stories back to the house and started telling the girls and they kind of didn’t sleep for the rest of the evening. So that kind of always stayed with me, and the monastery certainly is a real location, and the tree is actually arguably the oldest oak tree in England, in reality the real tree in the film, and it’s mentioned in something called “Doomsday,” a big historical document done in 1666 that says it’s over a thousand years old and the thoughts of the kind of horrific events through history that that tree has seen and the things that have come and gone, and the thought that some kind of evil spirit or emotion might have attached itself to something which has stood for a thousand years as time has gone by all through British history was kind of a fascinating notion for us, and if you go to the tree today it is hollow and it looks ancient and yet in winter it looks kind of gnarled and kind of spooky, but then in the summer it comes out with huge leaves. That was kind of interesting as well, because it’s almost like a sheep in wolves’ clothing in a sense that it had this fair complexion in the summer and then in the winter has this barren look about it and almost an evil look. So all of those things kind of combined with the monastery work as a fantastic backdrop to the film. So it came out of that, really.

BUG: Was it difficult to film around the tree? Is it like a national landmark or something?

MH: Quite interestingly, it’s on the land of a farmer’s wife, actually, and they charge people a ridiculously small amount of money to come and see it and have their picture taken with it, so she was kind of pleased that the tree was getting some publicity as the proceeds she gets from the tree go to charity. She was kind of delighted in that respect. She did, however, keep chickens, so we had to have a chicken wrangler on set and come and remove the chickens and also there were lots of farm buildings that even if you look at the reverse angle of the tree would have been in shots that we had to remove, but yeah it was kind of relatively straightforward.

MA: The tree is very atmospheric and it speaks to one of the main themes in the film, which is things from the past coming out and having a menacing influence on the present. This is also what we were trying to do with the film itself. What we were going for was telling a classic British ghost story in a new way. Both Matt and I love classic…CAT FIRE and PUPPET KNIGHTS and DARK EVENING kind of spooky ghost stories and we are also big fans of the found footage genre. What we were trying to do was revitalize that old tradition of spooky stories that are about atmosphere and about history coming back to haunt you and about characters that slowly build up to that big bang and the supernatural scare at the end and then turning that into something a bit more modern and a bit more visceral, I think, as the found footage style really throws you into the moment.

BUG: I wanted to talk about the found footage. There’s a lot of films out there right now that are using the found footage motif. Is it a challenge for you guys to get this out there, so that you can keep your head out above the rest of the herd of found footage films?

MA: Not really. The reason why there are so many found footage films out there is that people like it. Love it or hate it, it’s a not for everyone type of genre, but the people who love it really respond to it and these types of films are very popular, and the reason I think it’s such a popular genre is it’s very visceral. It’s a very modern way of telling a story and it’s become an entire subgenre. Now you’ve got the ground rules for how a found footage film works already established. When you make a found footage film these days you don’t have to go “Why is the camera rolling? Who is actually behind this? Why can’t they turn the camera off?” You don’t need to keep reiterating that. The audience understands the rules of the game and that’s a good thing, because now you can get more complex as you don’t have to spend the time on the premise, you can get into more complex ideas and bigger ideas. For example, you have films like TROLL HUNTER coming out, which is a fantasy film in the found footage genre, and you have things like CHRONICLE coming out which is a really great super hero movie in the found footage genre, and they can branch out and explore new territory now, because it’s been fairly established and what we are doing is we are taking it into another direction which is more classic horror, but we wanted to create something that was instantly British and also something that was more character driven and more drama based than found footage had been in the past. That genre had been established enough where we could take it in that direction where it’s about the interplay between dramatic elements between people who have a history and at the same time about supernatural evil bringing it all together and into a defined space.

BUG: It's definitely got a little bit of THE WICKER MAN feel to it, and I guess it’s because of the druid kind of atmosphere and the mythology and religion that is attributed to the film. Was that film influential to you guys? THE WICKER MAN?

MH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, THE WICKER MAN is one of my favorite films, you know, a British guy and a couple of great British horror of the seventies is coming out, WICKER MAN being one example, something like DON’T LOOK NOW is another example, films where they create a tension right from the get go, based with the mythology. Even from the first five minutes you see that something kind of isn’t quite right and as you quite rightly say, that forces that druidic mythology, where it almost looms out of the past how close to the surface people’s beliefs lay and can be tapped into quite readily, the fears of that kind of pagan view of the world. It’s kind of a fascinating theme to play with, so yes from my perspective THE WICKER MAN was a tremendous influence and other seventies films from the UK that kind of did similar things. That was my inspiration coming into it.

BUG: Yeah. As you were saying that it does seem like there was a new resurgence of another sub sub-genre of horror, which does focus on the Druidic religion and that being scary cult and full of mystery what with KILL LIST that came out last year. What is it about druidism that people seem to find extremely scary?

MH: I think one of the things is it takes you straight back to a kind of pagan era before organized religion and how we know it and all of the things that are associated with that, ritualistic killings and all sorts of things…religious rites that we have seen in films and various things. So it takes you right back to think that mankind is actually not far away in terms of generations from a much darker time and it’s kind of bubbling below the surface. I mean an analogy with other films, something like 28 DAYS LATER and one of the reasons why I think that’s scary is the thought that violence and chaos in society is not very far away. You don’t need to change much for it to resurface. I think it’s the same with that kind of pagan ritualistic thought where it wouldn’t take too much in society for these things to be created to turn society on its head. I think it played into a primal feel where we consider ourselves sophisticated and how we think about science more than religion, but there’s still superstition which is almost irreligious in a sense that goes not many black cats cross your path and things like this. That stuff is still part of our collective psyche and I think to tap into that is great horror fodder.

MA: I also think something that’s scary is it lends itself directly with nature and the objects around it in a way of kind of watching religion ignored…when you rewind it how we are the nature…and the city of Greenwich, which the film was shot in, was eaten away by the sea and much of it is now in the water, is if nature chooses to, it can wipe us out in a second and this was about acknowledging this and trying to keep those forces at bay, but just by the simple act of acknowledging that we are at the mercy of nature we are recognizing just how small human beings are and how much we are at the mercy of things like the past and things like the world around us, which may or may not be taken away. The monastery could have the spirits of the dead willing the living to do horrible things and it’s something that isn’t just in Europe, but all over the world, and it’s something that’s part of our collective psyche and something that societies with more organized religions try to suppress. So when you bring it back and remind people of those feelings of superstition of nature around us being able to be a negative force on us become something that’s very visceral and very scary.

BUG: Very cool. Well, what do the both of you have coming up next?

MH: We are working on about three or four projects and are probably going to be genre projects, a couple of really interesting sci-fi things, so probably that’s going to be the next thing for us. I would say we are in mid development on a couple of those, two or three of those projects, and the great news for us is with the kind of attention that HOLLOW is getting we are able to have the right kind of meetings with the right kind of people now. So hopefully in the next six months our next project will be greenlit and will be off.

MA: There’s a few projects we are really excited about, and this has been a real fun story for both of us. We did this project together kind of outside the industry, a very independent project that we basically put together in our spare time when we were working full time jobs, and we are very excited that it’s turned into something that people seem to get excited about and the film is being released by Tribecca in the states this Wednesday, the 19th of September, and we are also getting a theatrical release in Europe, which is going to happen in January. We are really excited about what’s happening with HOLLOW and we have some great things in the pipeline.

BUG: I can’t wait. HOLLOW was a really scary and atmospheric film. I really liked it. Congratulations on all of the success and best of luck to you guys in the future. Thanks for taking the time out to talk with me today.

MA: It’s been our pleasure, Mark.

MH: Great. Thanks, Mark.

Hollow Trailer from Fantasia Festival on Vimeo.

Available on Video On Demand this week!

HOLLOW (2011)

Directed by Michael Axelgaard
Written by Matthew Holt
Starring Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Jessica Ellerby, Matt Stokoe, Simon Roberts
Debuted at FanTasia International Film Festival. Find out more info on the film, when it will be released, and where you can see it here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Last year, I had the pleasure of checking out HOLLOW, a found footage film set in Dunwich, England which at the time was tearing up the festival circuit. Now, one year later, a new edit of the film is available for all to see and I had a chance to check it out again. Much of the film remains the same, but as the director and producer above explained, it is a much tighter and more succinct film in this new edit. One thing that remains in both edits is that HOLLOW is an engrossing and effective little found footage gem.

The film follows two young couples with a complex relationship. The success of this film rides on the relationship between these two couples, which becomes more complicated and enmeshed as the film goes on. One couple, played by Emily Plumtree and Matt Stockoe, are set to be married. The other is a more strained relationship with the male, played by Sam Stockman, harboring a crush on the female (Jessica Ellerby) in the other relationship. The four venture into Dunwich to visit Emma’s childhood home, a trip she is not all too excited about. The film starts off as most found footage flicks do--with a lot of day-to-day stuff of couples having fun, trips in the car, casual conversation, and a lot of shaky camera work. Things get ominous very quickly, though, when they pass a tree that Emma claims is haunted. Legend has it that couples have hanged themselves from the tree’s branches and that it’s haunted by a hooded figure. The tree is spooky as hell, yet the couple find themselves drawn to it throughout the film, ending in a climax that takes place in a car in the dark that is absolutely terrifying.

As with most found footage films, the limitations to what we see cause the most unease. The poor lighting and unfocused camera only intensify the frights. The couples do a convincing job acting as if they are not acting here, though at the end they do make a couple of dumb decisions to move the plot along. And though it is somewhat predictable how these couples are going to end up given the history of the haunted tree, director Axelgaard and writer Holt make the journey there a haunting one with scores of scary imagery and atmosphere to play with. Comparisons to THE BLAIR WITCH are inevitable, but this is more akin to the feel of THE WICKER MAN (the original) than anything else. As I said, I’m a sucker for found footage films, so this was right up my alley, but if you’re looking for a clean resolution and a steady cam, this might not be for you.

That said, with the scores of found footagers out there, HOLLOW definitely is one of the scarier ones due to some creepy druidic history, some fine acting, and one creepy as hell tree.

See ya tomorrow with a big, big column, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.

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Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 19, 2012, 8:33 a.m. CST

    Found footage is to moviemaking as rap is to singing..

    by Smerdyakov

    If you ain't got the voice....simplify.

  • Sept. 19, 2012, 11:38 a.m. CST


    by Kloipy

    Sorry to spam, but I just watched a screener for this last week. I also dug it as a nice play on the genre. Though I disliked the ending at first, I ended up changing my mind on it as I think it is more than what the movie wants you to think it is about Here's my review of it, sorry again for the spam, just hoped you would take a look at it.

  • Sept. 19, 2012, 11:48 a.m. CST


    by AngelinasOilBoy

    ROFL at the director's description of Greenwich. FYI, Greenwich is an extremely urban area of London and its where the Olympics were held. It is NOTHING like his description of American Werewolf in London territory.

  • Sept. 19, 2012, 1:17 p.m. CST

    I like found footage.

    by MoistMuskyCamelToe

    Really enjoyed Blair Witch, Monsters, and Cloverfield. If it's done well I find it engaging. Done poorly and it feels like a gimmick. That said, the trailer didn't grab me. I got the sense that the violence would occur between the characters, and that the tree really didn't have much to do with anything beyond a visual point of interest.