The nightmare of innocent children at risk from devilish forces has been the subject of many horror films over many years, from The Omen to Insidious. It is now the inspiration for local filmmaker Jeremy Lutter’s The Hollow Child, which is getting its world premiere at the Victoria Film Festival. Lutter is an award-winning director well known for several short works that have been screened at the VFF in recent years (and have also appeared at festivals around the world, including at Cannes). This is his first feature length film and it’s an atmospheric, well-acted genre piece that will interest horror fans (even if the splatter is kept to a tasteful minimum).
Hollow stars Jessica McLeod as Samantha, a troubled teen orphan who has recently been placed with a wholesome Christian couple who have a young daughter, Olivia. “Sam” skateboards around with her solitary gal pal, Emily, the two ladling out dollops of teen-girl sarcasm in between minor bouts of shoplifting at the local thrift shop. Sam is expected to look out for the much younger Olivia, especially walking her home from school. Self-absorbed Sam can’t be bothered with such an annoying responsibility, and then is horrified when Olivia simply vanishes, lost in the woods near their house.
The missing girl returns three days later without any explanation, but she’s unharmed and everyone is relieved. Soon, though, Sam starts to notice that Olivia is different – she has begun playing malicious tricks at the dinner table, torments the neighbour’s dog, and tears the eyes out of her menagerie of stuffed animals. On the outs with her foster parents, Sam tries to unravel this mystery by herself, beginning with looking into a notorious case of arson from 30 years ago that also featured a local girl who vanished in the woods. Things escalate from there, including a woman connected with the arson case who produces a book of folklore filled with creepy illustrations. Can a confrontation with supernatural forces be far behind?
Lutter is a skillful traditionalist, invoking all the expected tropes of a fright flick with a sharp eye and a dark sense of glee. The pacing is slow and sure, the cinematography supports the story, and the soundtrack ably adds to the mood while sometimes toying with audience expectations. (There is one sly moment, set during Halloween, when the soundtrack pays brief homage to the signature sound of horrormeister John Carpenter.) Hollow deserves an audience.